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A New Front in the Fracking War

Ohio’s natural-gas bonanza.

Jan 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 19 • By KATE HAVARD
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Squeezed between environmental concerns and the need for jobs, some politicians are hedging their bets. Senator Sherrod Brown takes a “cautionary” approach to hydraulic fracturing. On January 7, Brown told a crowd at the University of Akron, “I think [fracking] is going to happen. .  .  . It’s a lot of jobs. It’s a lot of prosperity. But it’s also our drinking water and it’s also the issue of waste disposal.” Instead, Brown prefers to emphasize green energy. Describing his visit to a local facility that converts waste into energy, Brown said, “Whatever we can do with companies like that, we should.” 

Brown is up for reelection in the fall, and his main Republican challenger—state treasurer Josh Mandel—is less reticent about natural gas. He believes Ohioans will not willingly pass up the potential gains of fracking. 

“Ohioans want responsible and aggressive exploration of gas in Ohio,” he says. “It’s good for our economy, our citizens, and our national security.”

Mandel associates Brown, a liberal Democrat, with what he says is the Obama administration’s tendency “to methodically vilify our natural resources, to treat them like liabilities and not assets.” Under this administration, the Department of the Interior has tightened its program for oil shale leases, while the SEC has upped its reporting requirements for companies that pursue hydraulic fracturing.

But then, elections have a funny way of changing people’s minds on hot-button issues. The White House’s January 2012 jobs report includes a section on “America’s Natural Resources Boom,” which says that “the potential benefits to the U.S. economy [from natural gas] are substantial” if “appropriate care” is taken with regard to health and safety. 

The report continues, “An abundant local supply will translate into relatively low costs for the industries that use natural gas as an input. Expansion in these industries .  .  . will boost investment and exports in the coming years, generating new jobs.”

After three years of tax hikes on the oil and gas industry, EPA meddling, and other bureaucratic obstruction, voters in Ohio and elsewhere who favor moving ahead on domestic natural gas will have to decide whether to credit this apparent conversion or discount it as empty campaign rhetoric.

Kate Havard is a student at St. John’s College in Annapolis.

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