In a recent commentary ("Say yes to LNG," Nov. 13), Dan Ervin of Salisbury University correctly asserts recent industrial innovations in drilling technology — known generally as fracking — have led to an enormous surplus of natural gas in our domestic market. Resulting historic low gas prices benefit the consumer but challenge the profit margins of the energy industry. Mr. Ervin argues exporting LNG can raise the price of natural gas and therefore re-start high production rates, in the process creating jobs and revenue.
While we completely agree that jobs and revenue are vital to American families, the consequences of LNG export reveal additional, long-term costs for taxpayers. First, shale gas fracking follows a "boom and bust" economic model. We're currently in the boom, and authorizing LNG export will only speed us toward the bust. Second, tapping shale gas to give U.S. manufacturing a boost may have its place in a discussion of energy policy, but LNG export benefits mostly a small group of investors and creates the least amount of jobs possible. Third, fracking — and associated LNG export — carries heavy social and environmental costs that equal or outweigh short-term economic benefits.
The boom in Marcellus shale gas is driven by an economic reality: the more gas produced up front, the better the economics, because sooner or later the finite resource is exhausted. Much of the public was sold on joining the long game of shale gas development with a promise of big returns but without realizing just how much we all stand to lose.
The best available science tells us shale gas supplies are uncertain. The Energy Information Administration estimates that domestic natural gas reserve estimations are down 42 percent from 2011, and the Marcellus reserve in particular is down 66 percent. Should Maryland and mid-Atlantic states be gambling on Marcellus reserves playing out?
Take a lesson from the Barnett and Haynesville shales — developed years before Marcellus — whose high initial production rates dropped off rapidly. The highly speculative and volatile nature of shale gas reserves and production rates, respectively, weighs strongly against LNG export being in the public interest.
Similarly, LNG export will only result in several thousand temporary construction-related jobs and relatively few permanent jobs for plant operation. The majority of those temporary jobs arise in the drilling phase of upstream shale gas production, which conforms to the "boom and bust" economic pattern. These types of temporary, market-driven jobs are not the long-term, dependable jobs that Marylanders and other citizens in the East need.
Just as troubling as LNG's economics are its direct and indirect environmental impacts. LNG export creates significant air quality pollution for surrounding communities, not to mention the dirty air legacy that follows natural gas during its production life-cycle. In fact, tracked from production to export, natural gas is at least as dirty a fossil fuel as coal!
Likewise, fracking is the driver of LNG export, and therefore fracking's negative impacts must also be accounted for. Think of the toxic waste products being produced and the lack of available technology to clean it, the land clearing, water pollution, tremendous truck traffic, and new pipelines. In other words, significant negative impacts for local water quality and local communities. Add to these impacts key shale states' suspect environmental policies that put citizens and the environment unreasonably at risk. How high an environmental price-tag are short-term corporate profits worth?
Arguing that the U.S. Department of Energy should allow the market to drive LNG export decision-making is a terrible policy choice. "The market" does not protect the public interest — that is the Energy Department's responsibility. Taken together these uncertain economics, unsustainable jobs, and a huge environmental price-tag should make everyone think very hard about whether LNG export is right for Marylanders and America.
As citizen advocates dedicated to protecting and improving our communities and natural environments Waterkeepers of the Chesapeake Bay watershed cannot support LNG export. The Department of Energy should reject Dominion Cove Point's LNG export proposal and in so doing moderate the impacts of an existing poor energy choice and prevent further, increased socio-environmental harm to communities and watersheds.
Guy Alsentzer, Wrightsville, Pa.
The writer is director of operations for Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, a program of Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna, Inc. He wrote this letter on behalf of the 18 Waterkeeper programs of the Chesapeake Bay.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun