Erika Johnsen

Last Friday, I bemoaned President Obama's latest executive order assigning a "task force" to oversee the domestic development of natural gas. It's a crafty little piece of strategery designed to make it appear as if his administration is encouraging the possibilities of natural gas, but also throwing a bone to the environmentalist lobby by promising to strictly regulate the "fracking" technique they insist causes all manner of public-health and environmental ills. And, in typical Obama-fashion, it won't actually accomplish anything except to retard the growth of a promising industry and prevent the creation of real, private-sector, productive jobs and wealth.

The only problem with environmentalists' tireless complaints against natural gas, however, is that they are all egregiously trumped-up. The EPA hasn't been able to conclusively find fault with the several suits it brought against private companies and the decades-old fracking technique, and, thanks to the innovation and ingenuity of the private sector, natural gas is experiencing an investment boom on already delivering returns on its incredible potential -- no government interference or taxpayer expense necessary (I'm looking at you, solar!).

In a stellar piece published yesterday, Exxon Mobil's CEO Rex Tillerson granted Forbes a rare interview that provides some fascinating insight into just how much eeeevil big oil companies like Exxon have contributed to America's prosperity and technological superiority, why marvelous life-bettering inventions (like "Google and Facebook," hem hem) are due to free enterprise and not the magnanimity of the federal government, how and why fracking works, and why Obama's EPA is such a phenomenal drag on our economy. I highly recommend the entire piece if you have a few moments:

For Rex Tillerson fracking is more than a revolutionary approach to drilling oil and gas -- it's part of his personal history. Simply mention the word to the CEO of Exxon Mobil (XOM) and he starts reminiscing about his days as a young engineer. It was 1976, and Tillerson had been sent to East Texas for his second assignment at the company. His job was to follow around rigs drilling for natural gas and "complete" the wells. That meant experimenting with a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. By pumping water, sand, and chemicals down into a well at high pressure, he could cause cracks in the stone where the gas was trapped and allow more of it to flow. ...

This shale gas boom has turned assumptions about the future of the U.S. and global energy picture upside down. Less than a decade ago the consensus was that America was beginning to run out of economically recoverable natural gas and that the country would need to import vast quantities of it from overseas. Now we're awash in natural gas. U.S. production has increased 28% since 2005. In 2011 about a third of that production was from shale gas, up from just 11% in 2008. By 2035, according to a study by the research firm IHS Global Insight, shale gas will account for 60% of U.S. production.

It is widely thought that the U.S. now has 100 years or more of domestic gas supply at current consumption rates. Already there has been a frenzy of exploration. The shale gas industry employed more than 600,000 workers in the U.S. in 2010, according to IHS, and by 2015 it will contribute some $118 billion to the U.S. economy. ...

Still, if there is a single factor that could slow shale gas development, it's environmental backlash. Already New York (which potentially has a lot of Marcellus Shale gas) and New Jersey (which probably doesn't) have temporarily banned fracking. Both France and Germany have imposed moratoriums on shale gas drilling. And in November, the Environmental Protection Agency released a 190-page report explaining how it plans to conduct a study of the impact of shale gas on drinking water that should be ready by 2014. ...

"I think we have to deal in facts," [Tillerson] says, his voice rising. "The assertions that our opponents make -- why don't you ask them to produce some facts, produce something? I mean, prove it."

Tillerson believes the discourse about shale has been hijacked and distorted. He says that Exxon is transparent about its practices and points out, for instance, that the company was an early proponent of disclosing the chemicals that it uses in fracking. He argues that shale drillers are being held to an unrealistic safety standard. "What's happened is the tables have been turned around now to where we have to prove it's not going to happen," he says. "Well, that is a very dangerous exchange to get into because where it leads you from a regulatory and policy standpoint is to govern by the precautionary principle. And the precautionary principle will absolutely undermine the economy." He adds, "If you want to live by the precautionary principle, then crawl up in a ball and live in a cave."

Ahh, environmentalists: providing the federal government with excuses to grab ever more power and damn the economy, one figmental public-health apocalypse at a time.


Erika Johnsen

Erika Johnsen is a Web Editor for Townhall.com and Townhall Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @erikajohnsen.