Fracking opponents make it harder to keep warm

Many U.S. households are just starting to recover from record-setting cold temperatures. Several major cities -- such as Denver and Chicago -- used more fuel than usual last winter to stay warm, according to a recent AccuWeather analysis.

But many low-income Americans who already struggle to pay their heating bills couldn't afford to pay for more fuel. For the nation's poorest families, energy costs eat up more than a fifth of after-tax income.

Leaders in Washington and around the country could help lower those heating bills by encouraging the development of domestic natural gas -- a clean, affordable heating fuel that America happens to possess in abundance. Yet several lawmakers are doing their best to suppress natural gas production.

As long as these politicians persist in their campaign against natural gas development, staying warm during a long winter will remain an unaffordable luxury for America's least advantaged citizens.

Heating costs are already high for many households around the country. For instance, the average price of heating one's home with propane is a whopping $1,676. Those burning heating oil spent $1,506, on average, while electric heat cost the average household more than $965.

But not all families faced such hefty heating bills, thankfully. In fact, the nearly half of American households using natural gas to stay warm spent a mere $634. For a household living at the poverty level -- which is $21,330 for a family of three -- the financial savings that come from natural gas can be life-changing.

The surge in domestic natural gas production in recent years has already reduced the cost of living in the United States dramatically. Thanks to advances in the energy exploration technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," household spending on natural gas dropped by more than a quarter between 2008 and 2014. In 2015 alone, natural gas helped deliver $1,337 in additional disposable income to the average U.S. family.

And by making it cheaper to do everything from ship goods to power factories and heat one's home, the natural gas boom will likely contribute an additional $533 billion to the nation's economy by 2025.

So it's discouraging that so many lawmakers known for championing the economically disadvantaged stand opposed to domestic energy development.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, for instance, wants to ban fracking across the country, just as lawmakers have already done in his home state of Vermont. New York implemented a fracking ban back in 2015, as did Maryland in 2017.

Opponents of fracking insist that the practice poses real threats to the environment. But virtually every concern has been debunked. And anyone truly concerned with the future of our planet should welcome a growing supply of low-cost natural gas -- a fuel that emits roughly half as much CO2 as coal, and considerably less than propane, gasoline or diesel.

America's broad-scale transition away from less-clean energy sources like coal and toward natural gas is a main reason why national CO2 emissions have hit their lowest levels in nearly two decades.

Of course, the vast majority of Americans are well aware of the benefits of natural gas. According to one recent poll, 77 percent of voters want more domestic oil and gas production, not less.

It's no surprise why.

Policies that restrict the production of natural gas -- and keep energy prices needlessly high -- make little sense in any season. But when Americans face record-setting cold weather, those reforms are downright inhumane.

Bolyard is the managing editor at PJ Media and a resident of northeast Ohio. This piece originally ran in RealClearEnergy.

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