Solyndra and fracking have more in common than just being remarkably fun words to say. (Doesn’t Solyndra sound like the name of an exotic Bond girl who may or may not be a spy herself? And fracking, well, Battlestar Galactica has helped mainstream it as yet another poorly-disguised curse word.) As it turns out, both Solyndra and fracking wouldn’t have achieved their notoriety – or infamy – without the help of the federal government. Solyndra may be one of Republicans’ favorite punching bags these days – and something we’ll likely hear more about again as Federal Budget Standoff 2012 gets underway – but fracking, well Republicans think fracking is pretty fraking cool.
First, let’s start with Solyndra. (Seriously, how has this not been the name of a Bond girl?) It was an exceedingly well-chronicled corporate bankruptcy involving a $535 million federal loan guarantee to a solar company that had a rise and fall not unlike several of the GOP presidential candidates (e.g., Perry, Cain, Gingrich, etc.). Notwithstanding the fact that many Republicans supported the loan guarantee program and voted to establish it back in 2005 (pre-Obama), it has been repeatedly cited as an example of why government should not be investing in energy projects. Further, Republicans are now describing Obama’s economic plan as the “Solyndra economy,” which probably ranks it somewhere between socialism and anything French in terms of derided economic models. (Although France has been so xenophobic lately, maybe Republicans like them now?)
OK, Republicans don’t like idea of government actively picking winners and losers and investing in energy companies. But, what does that have to do with fracking? Isn’t that a technological innovation of the private sector?
Well, some really fantastic investigative work by the Breakthrough Institute revealed that government funding was critical to the development of the fracking process.1 Are you telling me that without active government investment, fracking wouldn’t exist as we know it? Get the frak out of here! No, I cannot. It’s serious.
According to the Breakthrough Institute:
The technological revolution allowing for the cheap extraction of natural gas from shale occurred thanks to more than three decades of government subsidies for research, demonstration, and production, a new Breakthrough Institute investigation finds.
Both directly and indirectly, the government was behind the critical moments and tools in the shale gas revolution – massive hydraulic fracking (MHF), 3-D mapping, horizontal drilling, and horizontal wells.
“I’m conservative as hell,” Dan Steward, the former Mitchell Energy geologist whose company pioneered shale gas in Texas, told us. But when asked about the role of government, Steward told us, “They did a hell of a lot of work, and I can’t give them enough credit for that. [The Department of Energy] started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish DOE’s involvement.”
Of course, this revelation may put some Republicans in a bit of a pickle. For example, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) has called for the U.S. Department of Energy to stop “risking billions of taxpayer dollars on unproven sources of energy.” He was referring to wind and solar, of course, and not fracking, which probably has nothing to do with the fact that he raised over $145,000 from the oil and gas industry during the last election cycle.
Now admittedly, not all Republicans are 100% sold on fracking – and not all are as confident about its safety as Rick Santorum – but I haven’t heard one Republican grumbling about how all those years ago the federal government wasted our tax dollars trying to figure out how to do it. No one is assailing fracking as the bastard child of bloated government bureaucracy. It sounds like to me that this omission is tacit approval for government playing an important role in developing our energy policy. Now there may be some differences of opinion as to what segments of the energy industry government should be actively supporting, but Republicans clearly have their favorites.
So, the next time you hear about how government dollars were wasted on Solyndra, think of Republicans and how government helped them learn how to love fraking. I mean fracking.