Appalachian Basin

Pennsylvania’s Resurgent Energy Industry Can Lead America

**Originally appeared in the Washington Examiner

A few miles from my childhood home stands a landmark that transformed the world as we know it today. More than a century and a half ago, an industry that employees millions of Americans, generates billions in federal revenues and allows us to maintain a standard of living that’s the envy of the world was hatched in northwestern Pennsylvania.

America’s oil and natural gas industry is woven deep into our nation’s fabric. And today, as the responsible development of the natural gas-rich Marcellus Formation expands, Pennsylvania is once again emerging as a leader in providing the country with affordable and reliable homegrown energy resources.

In August of 1858, Edwin Drake drilled what’s now considered the world’s first oil well — just 68 feet below the surface — in Titusville, Pa.

Today — while traditional, shallow formations are still producing significant amounts of American oil and natural gas — the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, some 5,000 to 9,000 feet below the surface, are being safely unlocked.

And the economic and national security effects have been significant, and will be lasting. Recently, the Mighty Marcellus was featured on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “This rock could power the world.”

Still, some ask if shale development is safe and environmentally responsible. That answer of course is that it can and must be done safely, and in a way that does not affect drinking water supplies.

To protect groundwater aquifers, energy producers are required to encase a wellbore with multiple layers of steel and cement. Indeed, three, four and in some cases five separate impermeable steel strings are put in place and cemented.

These multiple layers of protection ensure that the contents inside the wellbore — natural gas and oil, as well as hydraulic fracturing fluids — cannot communicate with the water table.

In America’s original oil patch, where I live, we have safely drilled and completed thousands of shallow oil and natural gas wells much closer to the water table.

Today, we are now producing energy form formations more than a mile below the surface. What’s safe a few hundred feet from the surface is safe a few thousand feet from the surface.

So what is hydraulic fracturing, and is it a new, unregulated technology, as some submit? Despite claims, fracturing has been in commercial use since the Truman administration, and has been safely used to enhance the flow of American oil and natural gas more than 1.1 million times.

The process requires water, sand and a small fraction of commonly used additives — all contained within the cased wellbore — to be pumped into the formation under high pressures with surgical precision, creating pathways for the hydrocarbons to flow.

Without fracturing, America’s abundant tight oil and natural gas reserves — which are helping to create tens of thousands jobs here at home at a time when they’re most needed — would remain out of reach.

Our nation’s energy security is of paramount concern. And strong, sustained economic growth is underpinned by affordable energy. Leaders in Washington must recognize the tremendous opportunity presented by job-creating American oil and natural gas development, and the key role it will continue to play in strengthening our standing in the global economy, and more importantly, in securing our nation’s energy future.

In my lifetime, this is the first real opportunity our nation has been afforded to seriously reduce our foreign dependence, while putting hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work producing clean, green, American natural gas.

It’s an opportunity we must take full advantage of in the months and years ahead.

John Peterson represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2009 and served in the Pennsylvania Senate from 1985 to 1996.

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