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Can natural gas really prevent an 'energy nightmare'?
Investors are bullish on the domestically abundant fossil fuel, but they may want to temper their optimism in light of unsettling new revelations
 
Navale Shale Oil reserve drills for natural gas in Colorado: Some researchers believe the fuel is not as eco-friendly as once thought.
Navale Shale Oil reserve drills for natural gas in Colorado: Some researchers believe the fuel is not as eco-friendly as once thought.
Steve Starr/Corbis

As gas flirts with the $4-a-gallon mark and Japan remains mired in a nuclear crisis, plenty of natural gas evangelists see their preferred fuel as a cheap, plentiful, and domestically available solution to America's vast energy needs. But not so fast. Environmental and safety concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" — a buzzy process that uses high pressure liquid to extract gas from shale deep underground — persist. And now, The New York Times suggests that even industry insiders admit natural gas has been overhyped. Is it really the answer to our ongoing "energy nightmare"?

Yes. Fracking is the future: "A new gusher of natural gas from shale has the potential to transform U.S. energy production — that is, unless politicians, greens, and the industry mess it up," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Allegations that fracking causes environmental problems — from earthquakes to contaminated drinking water — are more fiction (and faulty science) than fact. Every form of energy production, even wind and solar, carry risks and environmental costs, and, with proper government regulation, those associated with fracking can be managed. If "we are serious about domestic energy production," we cannot let "the fear of undocumented pollution kill this boom." If we do, "we will deserve our fate as a second-class industrial power."
"The facts about fracking"

No. Don't believe the fracking hype: "Natural gas companies have been placing enormous bets on the wells they are drilling, saying they will deliver big profits and provide a vast new source of energy for the United States," says Ian Urbina in The New York Times. "But the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying." Correspondence between energy execs and others in the industry reveals they may be vastly overstating the potential of their wells. In private, telling comparisons to "dot-coms," "Ponzi schemes," and "Enron" are being made by industry insiders. This hardly sounds like the energy miracle we're all looking for.
"Insiders sound an alarm amid a natural gas rush"

Even if natural gas works, we need more analysis: "It's time to calm the frenzy," and take "a more balanced look at what's to be gained — and lost — if we embrace natural gas too heartily," says Mindy S. Lubber at Reuters. "Despite its many positives, natural gas is no panacea for a country with a long history of over-dependence on fossil fuels that still hasn't come to grips with climate change." We need to address the environmental and safety issues, and, even then, be wary of putting all of the country's eggs in a single basket. "We need a wide array of low-carbon, clean-energy solutions, including 'safe' natural gas and exponentially more renewable energy."
"Why we need to calm the natural gas frenzy"

 

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