Friday, December 9, 2011

Frack Storm Shows Need for Better Regulation

A rare balanced viewpoint:


No form of energy is without risk. Conventional oil and gas wells leak. Nuclear power stations melt down. Coal-fired power stations emit lots of mercury and greenhouse gases. And wind farms kill migrating birds and disfigure the landscape.

Like any other technology, fracking imposes its own costs and benefits, but there is no reason to think it is inherently any worse than conventional oil and gas production or other forms of energy.

The first frack job dates back to 1947, and up to 95 percent of all oil and gas wells drilled today are hydraulically fractured, accounting for 43 percent of total U.S. oil production and 67 percent of natural gas production, according to a report prepared by the National Petroleum Council for the U.S. Department of Energy.

From time to time, it is inevitable fractured wells will contaminate drinking waters. There is no such thing as zero risk. The challenge is to manage risks carefully and ensure those affected are properly compensated when things go wrong.

In theory, it should be possible to design a system of intelligent regulation that maximises the benefits from unlocking unconventional gas and oil reserves while minimising adverse impacts on local communities -- from groundwater contamination, disposal of briny waste water, use of freshwater supplies and the enormous increase in traffic.

In practice, this remains a depressingly distant goal. EPA, environmental groups and the oil and gas industry must all share the blame for inadequate fracking regulation and an increasingly hostile political environment for a technology that promises to transform the energy supply picture in coming decades -- but only if voters allow it to be deployed more widely.

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