Oil and gas production key part of Ky.'s energy past and future

Brydon Ross of Lexington is vice president of state affairs for Consumer Energy Alliance.
Brydon Ross of Lexington is vice president of state affairs for Consumer Energy Alliance.

Kentucky is no stranger to energy development — or the vast economic benefits it provides. The state has a long, storied tradition in oil and natural gas production with producing basins in Eastern and Western Kentucky.

Today, Kentucky has more than 14,500 active natural gas wells in nearly three dozen counties and a fleet of oil wells in more than 60 counties that produce about 3 million barrels of crude a year.

Oil and natural gas production also serves as a vital economic catalyst and is part of a broader diverse energy equation that includes solar, wind, nuclear, coal and other energy sources.

The state's oil and natural gas sectors employ more than 3,200 Kentuckians, contribute more than $1 billion in economic impact to the state, and more than $40 million to its general fund and local budgets. Oil and natural gas jobs pay significantly higher than the state's average worker pay — the average annual wage in both sectors is $75,000.

Safe and efficient oil and natural gas development also has helped boost the state's overall job growth — now at its highest mark since 2007 — and stabilize the state's important manufacturing sector, while providing tremendous benefits to consumers through lower fuel and heating bills.

For example, Columbia Gas of Kentucky recently announced a 19.5 percent drop in natural gas costs.

There are also exciting new areas, such as the Rogersville Shale, centered around Lawrence and Johnson counties in Eastern Kentucky. Currently, 98 percent of the state's natural gas production comes from Eastern Kentucky and additional deep shale exploration could help provide new opportunities and economic development for communities in Appalachia that have been hammered by the effect of lost mining jobs.

But as compelling as these economic figures are, there are several anti-development groups that want to stop this progress in its tracks through inaccurate, irrational and unreasonable calls for bans on production — denying landowners their property rights, denying communities economic opportunity, and risking jobs and future job growth. Nationwide, these activists have pushed more than 400 municipal production bans.

That's why it is important for Kentuckians to know we can have robust energy production and environmental protection. In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed with what industry officials and non-partisan state regulators have emphasized all along: Contrary to the fear tactics and rhetoric used by anti-energy development organizations and "fractivists," hydraulic fracturing in the United States has "not led to widespread, systemic effects on drinking water resources."

The EPA, hardly an industry cheerleader, reached this conclusion after a five-year review of nearly 1,000 published papers, technical reports and stakeholder information conducting the most comprehensive federal investigation — requested by Congress — ever done on fracking's environmental impact.

Kentucky has been safely using hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas for decades. To its credit, Gov. Steve Beshear's Energy and Environment Cabinet convened a working group of stakeholders from state regulators, industry and environmental groups to find common ground and help provide a comprehensive set of recommendations on updating regulations covering chemical disclosure, water testing, well reclamation and community notifications of operations.

That effort led to a landmark agreement between disparate groups and legislation (House Bill 386/Senate Bill 86) introduced by House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins and Sen. Julian Carroll that was approved unanimously in both chambers.

Unfortunately, anti-development extremists are now setting their sights on Eastern Kentucky and used a recent public meeting in Hazard by the Energy and Environment Cabinet as a platform for their agenda. Many of these groups have aided and abetted the downturn in our coal industry.

For the sake of consumers, struggling communities and workers in Kentucky, don't let them do it to oil and gas production as well.