Drilling for Common Ground: How Public Opinion Tracks Experts in the Debate Over Federal Regulation of Shale Oil & Gas Extraction (aka Fracking)

89 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2016

Date Written: February 15, 2016


Public interest in environmental and public health impacts in shale oil and gas extraction (what the public calls fracking) is growing. Industry claims the public outcry against the new technology is not grounded in science. In February 2013, Resources for the Future published a list of high priority “risk pathways” that experts from NGOs, academia, government and industry all agreed were real concerns in fracking. This article used the risk matrix to evaluate whether public comments in dockets of federal agencies that proposed federal regulation concerning hydraulic fracturing tracked expert concern. The article found that the public tracked many of the expert’s shared concerns. Highest concern was raised by water pollution concerns in surface and groundwater from fracking fluids, flowback and produced water. The public shared expert worry over cementing and casing failures and understood that these were the primary causes of most groundwater contamination. Damage to habitat was the third greatest concern raised by the public. Methane leakage into air and water was less cited. Concerns over technical matters were rarely mentioned by the general public but were often cited by self-identified experts. The article concludes while the general public did not go into the detail about regulatory mechanism that was often reflected by experts, the concerns raised by the public in comments to proposed rulemakings largely reflected the consensus themes of the experts. More significantly, the public writing overwhelmingly favored increased federal regulation to protect public health and the environment. The very limited number of comments opposing increased regulation were presented by members of industry; these objections were based on financial considerations and did not present evidence that adequate regulations were already in place to protect public health and the environment.

Keywords: public opinion, expert opinion, adminstrative procedure, public comment, shale gas extraction, oil and gas, hydraulic fracturing, EPA, BLM, USCG, water allocation, water pollution, surface and groundwater, fracking fluids, flowback, produced water, habitat, land use, sustainable

JEL Classification: K32, L50, N70, Q20, Q40

Suggested Citation

Geltman, Elizabeth, Drilling for Common Ground: How Public Opinion Tracks Experts in the Debate Over Federal Regulation of Shale Oil & Gas Extraction (aka Fracking) (February 15, 2016). Virginia Environmental Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2732676

Elizabeth Geltman (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Public Health ( email )

55 W 125th St
New York, NY 10027
United States

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