Tue, 29 October 2013
The meaning of North American energy independence and how to achieve it has been a hot topic of debate for years. The oil crisis of 1973 brought into focus the stark reality that the US was reliant on other nations for access to oil. Determined to prevent similar incidents, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created in 1975 and today the US has the capacity to hold up to 727 million barrels of emergency fuel. Though it sounds like an immense amount of oil, it equates only to an estimated 36 days of use. So the search for an alternative, safe, clean and affordable domestic source of energy has continued. Scientists had known for years about natural gas trapped in a dense layer of sedimentary rock—known as shale—buried a mile or more underground all over the country. The problem with shale gas was it was too difficult to access; a problem solved by 'hydrofracking', commonly referred to as, 'fracking'. A little over a decade ago scientists created a process to inject water under high pressure into shale, breaking it and releasing trapped gas and oil. This simple idea of injecting water into the ground effectively lit the fuse that has caused an American energy explosion. Shale gas is cleaner than coal and oil. Fracking has created jobs, lowered emissions, kick-started industry and for the first time in decades created an energy surplus in the US. However, fracking comes with its own environmental costs.