Ritter: Fracking debate muddies view of natural gas

The fight over fracking marks a sharp departure in the way natural gas is being viewed by environmental organizations, which have stepped up battles against a fuel once hailed as a bridge to a future of renewable energy.

Hydraulic fracturing has drawn fire from a California organization, the Post Carbon Institute, which claims to have a study that “put nails in the nat(ural) gas coffin.”

Recent studies about natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, however, fall short of the kind of indictment that would destroy the hydraulic-fracturing industry, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said.

“I still think natural gas is a very important fossil fuel, and we should do everything we can to ensure the fracking process is environmentally sound,” Ritter said.

Ritter now heads the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. During his tenure as governor, he was criticized by industry and Republicans as being anti-drilling.

Ritter, however, also characterized natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable-energy economy and lobbied the federal government to approve the Ruby Pipeline, which could transport natural gas from Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states to western markets.

Recent studies from Duke and Cornell universities, as well as the Post Carbon Institute, have questioned the supply of natural gas and whether natural gas captured by fracking is an effective tool against global warming.

Critics of fracking have pointed to the Cornell and Duke studies as saying the process has affected nearby domestic water wells and could pose global-warming threats.

The studies, however, suggest also that faulty casings are the cause of leaking methane, Ritter said.

“Industry can reduce the leaking, and they should want to capture” any “fugitive natural gas” shunted away from the system that collects gas released by fracking, Ritter said.

“Industry should be willing to follow the science and be appropriately monitored” while having its intellectual property protected, he said.

The Post Carbon Institute suggests that reserves of natural gas, especially those from tight-gas plays, have been overstated, citing the tendency of those wells to run out quickly.

Still, there appear to be many potential sites for gas, Ritter said.

“We have not even begun to explore other parts of the world,” he said.

The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association called the Post Carbon Institute’s evaluation “embarrassingly uninformed” and hinted that more discoveries of natural gas are in the offing in western Colorado.

“Their bet against America’s domestic natural gas industry and our technological capabilities is politically motivated, and just plain wrong,” association Executive Director David Ludlam said.


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