ISAAC ORR: Young people don't like fracking -- but they should

CHICAGO -- A new Gallup poll shows young people are no fans of hydraulic fracturing, the technology that has made the United States the largest producer of natural gas and oil in the world.

1717063+Isaac Orr.jpg
Isaac Orr

CHICAGO - A new Gallup poll shows young people are no fans of hydraulic fracturing, the technology that has made the United States the largest producer of natural gas and oil in the world.

According to the survey, 44 percent of Americans ages 18-29 oppose hydraulic fracturing, 32 percent favor fracking, and 24 percent have no opinion on the subject.

But young people may want to reconsider their position in light of the environmental and economic benefits fracking brings.

I am among the 32 percent who favor fracking. Why my counterparts oppose fracking isn't exactly clear. It might stem from being subjected (inhumanely, I would argue) to countless episodes of "Captain Planet" and years of having our teachers tell us that riding in cars would kill polar bears.

But it seems to me that the largest factor influencing young people's opinions on fracking is the movie "Gasland," a film that has been thoroughly discredited for its inaccurate portrayal of the environmental impacts of fracking.


Once young people become aware of the science of hydraulic fracturing and of fracking's impact on the environment, it's possible they will change their opinion of it.

Environmental stewardship is particularly important to the younger generation, including me. I worked for two summers in Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park may be the most beautiful place in the country.

Fracking serves the goal of environmental stewardship: It has allowed the United States to become the leading producer of natural gas and oil while reducing the amount of land that must be disturbed for energy production.

By drilling wells in multiple directions from a single pad, oil and natural gas producers can access more energy resources while using less wildlife habitat and minimizing the industry's footprint.

Additionally, the United States has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions more than any other country over the past several years. CO2 emissions are down about 12 percent from their 2005 levels.

This emissions reduction wasn't needed by the polar bears, whose decline has been greatly overstated. But in any event, the feat would have been impossible without the large quantities of natural gas made available by fracking.

In fact, fracking has produced so much natural gas that prices have plummeted from their highs of $14 per million British thermal units several years ago to less than $3 this year. These low prices have resulted in natural gas replacing coal as a source of fuel for electricity generation.

Because burning natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of burning coal, switching from coal to gas has resulted in more greenhouse gas reductions than ever have been achieved through wind and solar power.


Economically, fracking has been a bright spot in an otherwise dim economic picture, which should be welcome news for young Americans: The unemployment rate for this demographic is 9.1 percent, much higher than the national average. That number swells to 14 percent if you include those who have given up looking for work.

Reports from last summer indicated millennials accounted for 40 percent of the unemployed, which helps explain why more than 30 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds are living with a parent.

In contrast to the slow growth in the rest of the economy, the energy industry and the industries that directly support it created more than 293,000 jobs between 2005 and 2012. This figure does not include the direct and indirect jobs created in other segments of the economy because of an increased demand for goods and services in non-energy industries.

These jobs have been especially important because the U.S. economy lost, on a net basis, more than 378,000 jobs across all sectors during that period.

As more young people realize "Gasland" is largely hot air, they may reconsider their position and embrace the environmental benefits and economic opportunities created by hydraulic fracturing. Heck, maybe someday they'll even move out of their parents' basements - as I did last summer.

What To Read Next
Get Local