The United States has enjoyed record-shattering energy production in the past year. In 2014, U.S. production of crude oil increased by over one million barrels a day, a 14 percent growth over the course of the year; by February, it had grown to 9.2 million barrels, according to the Energy Information Administration. Last year also saw record natural-gas production, a trend that will only continue, according to federal forecasts.
The U.S. energy boom has been made possible by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling, two innovations that have allowed oil and gas producers to access reserves of energy that were previously inaccessible, locked into dense underground shale formations. And American consumers have emerged as the biggest winners, enjoying huge savings as the price of energy drops.
Yet as U.S. energy extraction increases, so have concerns about the safety of fracking. In January, the New York Times proclaimed that new scientific research had linked “scores of earthquakes” to fracking sites in Ohio. Environmental groups responded with cries for more regulation.
However, research shows that the risk of earthquakes caused by fracking is minimal and sensible regulations and precautions can mitigate the risks associated with wastewater disposal. Given the importance of fracking to the U.S. economy, it’s essential to understand what the science is actually revealing about energy extraction and induced seismicity and to create balanced public policy that allows safe energy extraction to continue.