Tokyo Electric workers are still toiling to bring the tatty Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex under control following the most serious snafu at a nuclear power plant since the Chernobyl disaster of 25 years ago.
Meanwhile, back at the Marcellus and other shale formations in the U.S., the natural gas industry has to be quietly pleased at the turn of events. Once the Fukushima crisis has been unpacked and lessons learned, it's likely that nuclear power will face tougher regulatory safeguards, which would drive up the costs of this carbon-free but very complex generation technology. Gas is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of nuclear's cost and public image problems gas is cheap, it's abundant, and unlike coal, gas is not a source of poisonous mercury or microscopic particles that sear lungs, trigger heart attacks, and kill people years before their time.
Still, if the gas guys were smart, they would get ahead of the curve by swatting flies that still might muck up their ointment. After Fukushima is off the front pages and the media are back to highlighting run-of-the-mill absurdities Michele Bachmann's putative presidential candidacy-cum-clown show comes to mind the water issues that could bedevil the gas boom will still be around.
That's why the gas industry should support federal legislation requiring full, well-by-well disclosure of the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing "fracking" in the trade a production practice for cracking open tight formations and coaxing gas molecules into well bores.
Concerns about what those chemicals might do to drinking water will not go away, in spite of the industry's insistence that hydraulic fracturing is safe, the technology already is subject to state regulation, and fracking activity takes place well below drinking water aquifers.
Those are reasonable arguments. Perhaps the fears of lay people about fracking are unreasonable. When it comes to a necessity of life so basic as drinking water, however, people are inclined to be unreasonable. Especially since energy technologies of all types have had a bad year. The exploding coal mine in West Virginia, a Gulf oil slick the size of small European nations, and now the crisis at the rattletrap Fukushima nuke can't have done much to instill public confidence in industrial energy technologies.
All the more reason for the gas industry to back off resistance to disclosure, come to the table, and agree to reasonable regulations, such as the disclosure law that took effect in Wyoming last year. Gas has a potentially long and bright future as a clean energy source as long as the industry builds and maintains public trust.
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