We at Foreign Affairs have recently published a number of articles about the shale revolution. Those articles sparked a heated debate, so we decided to ask a broader pool of experts to state whether they agree or disagree with the following statement and to rate their confidence level about that answer.

For the United States, the benefits of the shale revolution far outweigh the costs.


Full Responses

CARTER F. BALES is Chairman & Managing Partner of NewWorld, which he co-founded in June 2009.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10
All hydrocarbon energy sources are bad for the United States and bad for the world in that they produce CO2 and other noxious byproducts that are rapidly driving the world toward a climate disaster with the death of nature, the destruction of our infrastructure, and massive avoidable costs of trying to adapt to a new climate reality. The cost of not addressing the drivers of climate disaster are estimated at 10–20 times the costs of aggressively confronting the problem. Aside from the regrettable, short-term bias in the human brain and human institutions, we have the problem of massive government subsidies flowing in favor of the hydrocarbon industry and a lack of adequate support for new, scale-dependent clean energy technologies. High and growing carbon emissions make the future of the world a bleak one, with great pain for those least able to pay to improve their lives. This is a tragic case of bad policy.

RUTH GREENSPAN BELL is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Disagree, Confidence Level 7
Water is becoming an increasingly scarce and uncertain resource. We still don’t know enough to know how to assess the trade-offs between, on the one hand, shale development and the energy it produces and, on the other, the damage production does to water supplies. My second concern is that shale is advertised as a transitional energy source. However, we know that once big economic interests become developed and entrenched, they are notably reluctant to give up their advantage. Thus fossil fuel interests have the means and the political megaphone to fight efficiency, renewables, and other routes toward controlling greenhouse gas emissions. My third concern is that giving so much attention to shale reduces the attention paid to efficiency. Efficiency is probably our biggest untapped resource; the United States wastes 61–86 percent of its energy.

ROBERT D. BLACKWILL is Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10

SCOTT G. BORGERSON is Managing Director of CargoMetrics and Co-Founder of the nonprofit organization Arctic Circle.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8
There will, of course, be costs, as there always are from development. But the many benefits far outweigh them. The United States is a big winner from greater domestic energy security, the economic stimulus that comes from cheaper oil, and the geopolitical implications for less-friendly petrostates (Iran, Russia, Venezuela). There might be risks if the collapse in oil ignites a deflationary spiral that we can’t emerge from after all the monetary stimulus since the financial crisis, but, as far as I can tell, the country is in much better shape with the price of crude oil halved.

JOHN DEUTCH is emeritus Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former U.S. Undersecretary of Energy, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Director of Central Intelligence.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10

JOHN HARTE is Professor of Ecosystem Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 9
Sound science informs us that burning fossil fuels releases gases that heat the planet and, if emissions are not greatly and expeditiously reduced, seriously threaten our economy and, indeed, planetary life support system. It is not yet too late to prevent a climate catastrophe. For the sake of both our planet and our pocketbooks, we should rapidly and smartly invest in clean renewable energy and increased energy efficiency, while we wind down our use of fossil fuels.

ROBERT A. HEFNER III is Founder and CEO of the GHK Companies, the author of The Grand Energy Transition, and the creator of a documentary of the same name.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10
Shale oil has been economically positive for a large number of rural people; it has provided about 2,020 of new U.S. jobs over the past two years, helped bring down oil and gasoline prices, and added to domestic GPD growth—as well as improving the United States' balance of payments and national security. Shale natural gas is a clean energy resource, and reserves are sufficient to last 100 years. Its low price (equivalent of $24 per barrel oil) has helped encourage hundreds of billions of dollars in capital expenditures for new industrial facilities, added to GDP growth, and lessened the use of dirty coal. Overall, the shale revolution provided the economic difference between recession and growth and over the past several years and has kept the United States as the world’s highest economic star.

AMY MYERS JAFFE is the Executive Director for Energy and Sustainability at University of California, Davis.
Agree, Confidence Level 10
The benefits would more greatly outweigh the risks if the sector were properly regulated.

ANNE KORIN is Co-Director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9
The economic gains achieved from the reduced price of natural gas due to shale development would be maximized by opening cars to fuel competition, so arbitrage against natural gas-based fuels can provide long-term downward pressure on the price of oil, as well as erode oil’s strategic importance.

PETER LEHNER is the Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Disagree, Confidence Level 5

MICHAEL A. LEVI is David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.
Agree, Confidence Level 8
The answer varies greatly within the United States. There are a lot of people who benefit enormously—but there are also many who see little benefit or are even hurt. It is essential that U.S. policy be clear-eyed about these uneven consequences even as it takes advantage of the boom.

DAVID M. LEVINSON holds the Richard P. Braun Center for Transportation Studies Chair in Transportation Engineering at the University of Minnesota.
Agree, Confidence Level 6

BJORN LOMBORG is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and former Director of the Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9
Cheaper gas has led to a switch from coal to gas electricity. This matters because gas emits about half as much CO2 per unit of electricity. So the U.S. shale revolution has led to a significant reduction in U.S. CO2 emissions. Actually, the U.S. shale revolution has reduced CO2 emissions three times more than all the solar panels and wind turbines in the European Union. At the same time, the shale revolution has increased U.S. GDP by upward of $300 billion per year; the European Union pays $30 billion in renewable subsidies. So, the shale revolution has given the United States cheaper energy, a better economy, and reduced CO2 emissions dramatically. Hard to beat.

AMORY B. LOVINS is Chairman Emeritus and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute.
Disagree, Confidence Level 9
Normally, the discussed risks are water use and quality (including opacity of additives); the impact on local noise, traffic, and air; methane leakage; induced seismicity; and whether the regulation and underlying science will mature enough to merit and regain public confidence. Many of these can probably be mitigated by best practices that many operators are reluctant to use, so those operators have suffered deserved reputational damage. The bigger problems, normally omitted, are economic—rapid output decline needing refracking or new drilling, hence higher-than-expected cost; brevity of the 10–15 year fracked-oil “bubble”; poor dry-gas economics; and inherent price volatility, which adds about $2/MCF to the apparent risk-adjusted price for fair comparison with efficiency and renewables. There is an important story here about affordable and abundant energy for the long run, but that story is less about fracked gas than about the physical hedges that are outpacing and outcompeting it—efficiency and renewables.

GAL LUFT is Co-Director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
Disagree, Confidence Level 6
Although, in the near term, shale energy may feel like a bonanza, the long-term impact of this so-called revolution is far less certain. The rise of shale has ushered the United States into an era of energy euphoria, creating a sense of geo-economic invincibility and eternal abundance. This exuberance seems to be eroding the Untied States’ commitment to addressing the problem of oil’s virtual monopoly over transportation fuel. But just like any drinker knows, intoxication is often followed by a painful hangover.

BILL McKIBBEN is an author, environmentalist, and founder of 350.org.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10
Fifty years from now, when we look back on this period, the only question we’ll ask is: What did you do to try and slow down climate change? “We invented a new way of getting more oil out of the ground” won't seem a very inspiring answer.

MICHAEL L. ROSS is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Disagree, Confidence Level 5
There have been many benefits, but the critical question is how it affects greenhouse gas emissions. New research suggests that the benefits of replacing coal have been offset by fugitive methane emissions from the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations.

MARK R. TERCEK is President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.
Agree, Confidence Level 7
To be sure, an abundant supply of low-cost, domestically sourced, and—subject to key environmental considerations—relatively cleaner source of energy is a good thing. The shale revolution has provided a significant boost to the economy in recent years. It has led to hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as new investments here in the United States. But key aspects of shale gas development must be improved. The chemicals used for fracking need to be less toxic. The leftover water from the process needs to be treated and reused to prevent pollution of streams and rivers. Wells and facilities must be secure so that methane doesn’t seep into drinking water or the air. And fracking’s overall footprint must be reduced to better protect wildlife habitat and communities. Finally, replacing all the coal we use for power generation with natural gas will not get us to our long-run carbon reduction goals. We need to continue to focus on making the transition to zero-carbon sources of energy.

NIKOS TSAFOS is a founding partner at Enalytica and is currently advising the Alaska state legislature on gas commercialization issues. He was previously a director with PFC Energy, with a portfolio that included overseeing research and gas fundamentals and leading the firm’s global gas consulting practice.
Agree, Confidence Level 8
Shale has brought many benefits: jobs, investment, tax revenues, a lower trade deficit, and fewer carbon emissions. It is also, finally, lowering energy costs. But many of the presumed benefits are just that—presumed. There is no manufacturing renaissance driven by cheap energy, nor will cheap oil provide an economic stimulus—oil prices matter far less than most economists assume. The big unknown: What happens to U.S. foreign policy? Will it leverage energy for political gain? Will it take bigger foreign policy risks because it feels unencumbered? Hubris will backfire and could turn a positive story into a disaster.

DAVID G. VICTOR is Professor of International Relations and Director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at University of California, San Diego.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8
Shale gas has dramatically lowered the cost of gas and thus electricity in the United States. That has been good for economic competitiveness. There have been negative consequences as well, and those must be managed in a serious way.


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