There's much debate about whether shale gas "fracking" (i.e. hydraulic fracturing) poses a risk to our freshwater resources. However, alongside the fact that the water demands of fracking are relatively small compared to other uses, the available scientific evidence actually paints a fairly optimistic view of the situation. Thus far, no causal link between drilling activity and water pollution has been found — despite researchers scrutinizing some pretty extensive data.
That said, water is so fundamental to our lives that it's entirely reasonable for residents to demand insurance against possible contamination. I give a brief overview of how property rights plays a key role in all of this, and my preferred regulatory framework for making sure that people are protected in the event of a dangerous leak.
Here's my conclusion:
It would be strangely naive to suggest that there are no potential risks to our water resources due to fracking activity. Like all energy sources, there are trade-offs to securing the benefits of shale gas and the possibility of water contamination is one of those. However, anti-fracking advocacy groups do their credibility few favours through the selective interpretation of – or pure disregard for – the existing scientific evidence, and what this actually says about the extent of these risks. Several comprehensive studies have thus far failed to establish any systematic relationship between drilling activity and water pollution. Important research is ongoing, but we clearly have reason to be optimistic at this stage. Regardless of the final outcome, I believe that such matters should be handled according to a clear regulatory framework that incorporates full liability and assures other stakeholders of the requisite contingency plans should an accident occur. After all, effective risk management is an entirely different animal to prior restraint.
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