"I'm not trying to sell anything," he said. "I'm just trying to give pros and cons."
Porter, an independent environmental consultant and former Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator, spoke Tuesday at Anniston’s Noon Rotary Club meeting.
The title of Porter’s talk was “America’s Energy Future,” but the discussion quickly turned to natural gas -– and the possibility of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Talladega National Forest.
Porter said that concerns over potential water contamination should be tempered with the knowledge that drilling for fracking operations occurs more than a mile below drinking water wells. Porter also said that the clean fuel natural gas provides is preferable to coal and has recently become more cost-effective.
"Once it gets going, it's pretty benign," Porter said of the environmental impact from fracking operations.
Earlier this spring, the Bureau of Land Management announced plans to auction leases to 43,000 acres for potential oil and gas drilling. The auction had been planned for June 14, but the federal agency put that on hold after outcry from residents and conservation groups concerned about the potential environmental impact, and after U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, argued more time was needed for public input.
In his remarks, Porter added that natural gas can be used in cars with some changes to the traditional engine, providing a new energy option that may have even more potential than electric cars.
Porter also mentioned the tendency of presidential candidates to take on an "all of the above" strategy toward U.S. energy development.
"The question is 'how much of the above?'" he said.
And although Porter believes in environmental regulations such as those from the EPA, he said that the government should not be in total control.
"I'm not much for governments picking winners and losers," said Porter, referring to subsidies. "The companies need to learn to stand on their own."
Porter describes himself as a "card-carrying Republican" and was appointed to the EPA under the second Reagan administration.
Porter said he recognizes the concern that environmentalists have, even if he doesn't agree with all of their arguments.
"Everything has some sort of environmental impact," he said. For example, Porter cited the small amount of space required for fracking operations, as opposed to renewable sources like wind or solar power.
"I encourage people to think what we do instead of fracking," he said,
In talks with those involved in the fracking industry in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Porter said he has urged companies to open up about the chemicals they use in getting the natural gas or oil.
"This is black magic to a lot of people," he said. "You can't solve a problem until you understand the problem."
He added that many states have regulations in place where these companies must disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process. Porter said he was not familiar with Alabama regulations, though.
A representative from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management could not be immediately reached regarding the existence of such state fracking regulations.
Porter said he does believe in understanding the effects of these operations.
"I think you've got to be pretty careful. It's pretty high-tech stuff," Porter said. "But you've also got to be careful with a nuclear power plant. The point is nothing is perfect."
Jerry Leake, president of the Anniston Noon Rotary Club, said he thought Porter's presentation went well.
"He's a well-qualified individual," Leake said. "He's very knowledgeable about what is going on around on the country, as well as around the world, where energy is concerned."
However, not all members of the club agreed with Porter's view.
Club member Lucile Bodenheimer said during the meeting that she was still concerned about methane contaminating the public water supply, especially after seeing documentaries that have been done in Pennsylvania towns near fracking operations. During the presentation, she asked Porter how he would respond to that issue.
Porter said he did not consider the issue to be an unconquerable one and did not immediately believe documentaries, such as “Gasland,” to be true. Porter said he still believes fracking is a viable energy option.
"Private industry brought forth this huge development in technology," he said. "It's been a huge game-changer in this country."