The rosy picture presented in the TV commercials for natural gas that we are bombarded with day and night is a lie. The concept of an energy future for America based on natural gas is, in fact, a future based on the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing. 90% of all natural gas wells in the U.S. are now fracked, because the sources of natural gas that could be reached through other means are now depleted. The NAT GAS Act seeks to create an enormous new market for natural gas in this country, which means widespread fracking will become a necessity.
We must stop passage of "the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011" (or "the NAT GAS Act," H.R. 1380), which provides billions of dollars of incentives for the conversion of vehicles and filling stations to natural gas. The NAT GAS Act was introduced in Congress in April 2011, is on a fast track with bi-partisan support, and has the endorsement of President Obama. T. Boone Pickens, the principal lobbyist for this bill, owns the largest stake in Clean Energy Fuels, a company that not only owns 200 natural gas filling stations nationwide, but also has the controlling interest in BAF Technologies, "the premier provider of natural gas vehicles." Pickens also owns the mineral rights to almost 200,000 acres believed to have significant natural gas reserves. The NAT GAS Act provides for a $100,000 tax credit for every filling station that converts to natural gas, $64,000 in subsidies for trucks that convert, and up to an $11,500 subsidy for every natural gas car. If we do not stop the NAT GAS Act, all the truck drivers, car manufacturers, and other interests that invest in the switch to natural gas transportation infrastructure will become another powerful constituency that will lobby hard to keep gas plentiful and cheap. This lobby will be so strong that it will be nearly impossible to stop. Working against the oil and gas industry is tough enough already.
Before fracking, the price of natural gas was four times higher than it is today. Fracking has brought that price down precipitously. Another reason the price of fracked gas is so cheap now is that the lack of strong Federal regulation externalizes the true costs of fracking onto taxpayers. Because of various exemptions the industry received under Bush and Cheney, gas companies have no liability and don't have to pay when they pollute our air and water, nor do they have to clean up after accidents, or accept any responsibility when people get sick. This way, the price of gas stays artificially cheap and profits stay high for the gas companies. The FRAC Act, which would eliminate the "Halliburton Loophole" and permit Federal regulation of fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, has languished in committee for several years. We need a national movement to pressure Congress to pass it.
Boone Pickens has gotten away with saying on national television that fracking is perfectly safe. We must provide a national counterpoint. There has been no nationally organized outcry against fracking. Until local groups come together in a bold way, the industry will dominate the debate.
We know that we must transition to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal, and biofuels from sustainable sources like algae. Fossil fuels not only pollute our environment, they will run out sooner or later. With global energy demand steadily increasing, fossil fuels will become increasingly scarce and costly and radical means of extraction, like fracking, will become increasingly common. Why spend many billions of dollars to build out an infrastructure for natural gas-powered transportation, when natural gas can only provide a temporary energy solution, and fracking poisons our water and air and makes us sick? If we are going to spend billions of dollars on an energy alternative, it should be for renewables, and now, and we need a highly organized, national lobby to push Washington into making that happen.