Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

The False Promise of Fracking

Richard Heinberg and the Post Carbon Institute are on a mission to debunk the benefits of the hydraulic fracturing method of gas and oil extraction, or fracking, which many contend outweigh its disadvantages.

In his latest book, SNAKE OIL: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future, Heinberg—journalist, author and senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute—says the “false hype” surrounding shale gas and oil production “has hijacked America’s energy conversation.”

Heinberg says his research shows that “rather than offering the nation a century of cheap energy and economic prosperity, fracking may well present us with a short-term bubble that comes with exceedingly high economic and environmental costs.”

Heinberg continues, “Horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas pose a danger not just to local water and air quality, but also to sound energy policy, and therefore to our collective ability to avert the greatest human-made economic and environmental catastrophe in history.”

In his analysis of shale production to date, Heinberg says:

  • Industry claims of a long-term economic bonanza and energy security as a result of domestic drilling for shale gas and shale (tight) oil.

  • The perception that shale gas and tight oil drilling will provide long-term, low cost supplies. The oil industry “has overstated world oil reserves by about a third and is working harder and harder just to stand still.”

  • The purported benefits to local economies: Heinberg shows that states with active fracking operations are spending more on road maintenance than they take in via severance taxes.

  • The case for authorizing shale gas exports: given constraints on future domestic production, the only thing exports can accomplish is to raise natural gas prices for American consumers.

  • Claims of major benefits of fracking for the nation: fewer jobs have been created than the industry claims, and temporarily increased domestic oil and gas production have led to a side-tracking of sound climate and energy policy. “The industry has massively oversold [fracking’s] jobs record. Since 2003, oil and gas jobs account for less than 1/20th of 1 percent of the overall U.S. labor market.”

In addition, Heinberg notes that fracking consumes millions of gallons of freshwater, pollutes groundwater and air, “and—thanks to leaking methane—may contribute more to climate change than burning coal.

“Success in shifting energy policy depends upon coordination of environmental and economic arguments against continued reliance on fossil fuels,” Heinberg writes. “Are there enough accessible hydrocarbons to tip the world into climate chaos? Absolutely…by erroneously reinforcing industry hype about the future potential of shale gas, tight oil, and tar sands, they keep the debate exactly where the industry wants it—as a choice between environmental protection on the one hand and jobs, economic growth, and energy security on the other. It’s a false choice and a losing strategy.”

Well, hopefully a losing strategy at some point soon. Heinberg makes the telling point that the only real beneficiaries of fracking are the oil companies. That’s not good enough. The industry continues to rig the argument with a fossil fuel mirage.

[Image: Snake Oil front cover from the Post Carbon Institute website]

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

Read more stories by Bill DiBenedetto