Let’s look first at some of the benefits of shale gas production. Natural gas is outcompeting coal as a cheap fuel for producing electricity and the result is that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are down sharply to a level last seen around 1992. In addition, a study comparing the costs and benefits of coal with those of conventional and shale gas in the February 2013 issue of Energy Policy finds that burning natural gas produces far less in the way of air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot, and mercury. The authors conclude that a shift from coal to gas would “reduce the overall likelihood of health problems affecting the nervous system, inner organs, and the brain.”
Shale gas production in 2010 supported 600,000 jobs and that is projected to grow to 870,000 by 2015 and contribute nearly $120 billion to the overall economy. In addition, shale gas production is revitalizing a number of U.S. manufacturing sectors including the steel, chemical, and fertilizer industries. Thanks to cheap shale gas, Canada’s TD Bank estimates that American residential consumers will save around $75 billion in home heating and electricity costs in 2013, the equivalent to about $650 per household.
So what about the downsides of shale gas production cited by environmental activists?