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Shale Gas: Friend or Foe?

A Special Letter from WRI Interim President Manish Bapna

Development of shale gas resources has sparked a fierce debate in the United States. Extraction of natural gas from shale via hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has opened broad areas of the country to extensive development for natural gas production. This has brought new economic opportunities while raising serious environmental concerns at the same time.

Proponents call it an abundant, clean energy source that will reignite the economy. Opponents see it as little more than another dangerous fossil fuel, whose development is capable of poisoning our drinking water. Regardless of where you sit on the issue, the fact is that shale gas is fundamentally changing our energy future.

At WRI, we don’t shy away from contentious issues. By supporting WRI, you enable us to initiate new projects and respond quickly to emerging issues, like shale gas.

Many organizations are focusing now on the local impacts to water, human health, and habitat brought about by fracking, and we support their efforts wholeheartedly. Given our strengths and expertise, we believe WRI’s best role is to focus on climate and energy policy issues, asking tough questions, bringing all sides to the table, and creating strategies that link global economic recovery and energy development with environmental protection and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

It’s the type of challenge where WRI’s reputation for solid analysis and for finding collaborative solutions can make a real difference.

Energy companies often call shale gas a clean fuel because burning it releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning coal does. But, this is only part of the equation. There are, for example, emissions from methane (a gas that aggravates global warming) associated with shale gas development that need to be accounted for. There are emissions too from the generation of energy required in the processing phase and from the fuel used in mining and disposal of waste.

In an effort to inform public policy and dispel the confusion and competing claims, WRI will conduct independent analysis to quantify the full range of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire shale gas development lifecycle. In doing so, we will not only provide reliable data, but also identify points in the shale gas supply chain where we can help find solutions to minimize emissions through the application of best practices and regulatory approaches.

The second phase of our work will analyze the role that natural gas, and the increased use of shale gas in particular, will play in U.S. and global energy markets in the coming decades. We will work with our industry and environmental partners to build the case for policies and investment strategies that maximize the value added of natural gas as part of a transition to a low-carbon economy without postponing or sacrificing the development of solar and wind energy. This will provide a strategic opportunity to engage policymakers on the long-term role for natural gas in the U.S. and world energy future, integrating climate change considerations into economic development and energy policy.

Shale gas has the potential to provide clear economic opportunities and energy security benefits if developed in the right way. That’s a big if, and we need your support to help make sure our environment is protected as the country explores this natural resource.

As you consider your year-end giving, please consider a gift to WRI. The great shale gas race is on, and time is of the essence.


Manish Bapna Interim President

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