Fracking: How It Could Save the Climate and U.S. Foreign Policy

Although fracking comes with numerous well-documented environmental, safety, and health hazards, experience and technology have made fracking an increasingly safe and effective means of powering the United States. The benefits of the United State’s exploitation of domestic shale gas reserves, in addition to remarkably inexpensive energy that is set to stay cheap for years to come, are far-reaching. Natural gas is continuing to drive down carbon emissions while decreasing our dependency on OPEC nations, including Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. 

First, by cooperating with China, the U.S. can increase global production, which will hold prices down while saving the environment. By sharing our knowledge of effective and safe fracking techniques with China, which has shale gas reserves 50% greater that in the U.S., we can increase the supply of natural gas into the market. This will bring down prices and emissions as China moves away from coal.

The International Energy Agency says that China’s skyrocketing consumption of coal, almost as much as the rest of the world combined, is the main reason world energy consumption has gotten cleaner by only 1% in the last two decades.

In the U.S., however, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports, between 2006 and 2012 shale gas production grew 800% and increased its share of U.S. energy production from 20% to 30%, while coal’s share dropped. This shift is largely responsible to U.S. annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions hitting an 18-year low, a greater fall than all of European emissions, despite Europe’s strong regulation and investment in renewables.

Lower natural gas prices will also translate into decreasing dependence on foreign energy sources. The Energy Information Administration says that, if fully exploited, domestic natural gas reserves could bring the U.S. dependence on foreign natural gas from 16% to 3% by 2030, and when adding domestic oil reserves to the equation, an increasing number of experts believe the U.S. could achieve full energy independence by the end of the decade.

While prices would still be subject to the global market, natural gas reserves help guarantee a stable domestic energy supply and add tools to the U.S. diplomatic toolbox. David L. Phillips, director of the Peace-building and Human Rights Program at Columbia University, points to Venezuela as an example: "Why permit ourselves to be held hostage to regimes hostile to our national interests and who give safe harbor to those who would do us harm? […] Chavez was so strongly anti-American and he was providing energy to our enemies. They should pay the price for non-cooperation." In line with this thinking, a Council on Foreign Relations post explains, “our own relationships with Gulf oil producers like Saudi Arabia were built not on political or cultural affinity but on our dependence on their oil exports.”

Weakening our dependence on the oil resources of Middle Eastern states such as Saudi Arabia will allow us to rethink our global role. The U.S. will no longer be bound to protecting oil supplies in the region as it has been in the past 50 years. Israel is following a similar path, exploiting Mediterranean natural gas reserves to gain energy independence from its neighbors.

Some analysts predict that the market forces produced by natural gas production and the exploitation of oil reserves could pull oil prices down as low as $70 to $90 a barrel, unsettling Gulf nations who depend on high prices to meet their budgets. Lowering prices will increase U.S. geopolitical power as OPEC countries as forced to increase output or reduce spending, and cope with the reforms that would accompany these shifts.

So, although natural gas is not a clean resource, if the U.S. and China could exploit their natural gas and oil resources, global coal consumption will drop dramatically, a huge step in limiting carbon emissions. Further, the decrease in dependence on the Middle East for oil, and the price drop in oil which would ensure from the U.S. and China moving to natural gas, will allow U.S. foreign policy to finally be released from the influence of oil producers such as Saudi Arabia.