I’m sympathetic to Wintercow’s concerns about banning fracking: among other things, a hardline approach to natural gas will forego the benefits of substituting for coal (which burns far dirtier). At the same time, some of the cautions introduced in NY’s legislation seem reasonable–particularly the minimum aquifer proximity requirements. Innovative fracking is a great technology, but I’m sympathetic to keeping it away from drinking water. It’s yet another classic question of how to treat “fat-tailed risks” in environmental policy. The empirical questions about fracking safety will sort themselves out in the coming years; as more experience accumulates, we’ll have a better basis for evaluating how fat the tails really are. How often and in what geologies do radon-laced frackwater emissions occur? It’s probably worth avoiding major aquifers until we’re confident–and when we do know, we have to judge frackwater risks against the similarly dangerous coal mine effluence and the favorable emissions balance of natural gas at the point of combustion.
We should replace those “NO FRACK” signs with “Frack in an iteratively cautious fashion, being mindful both of tail risks and the favorable tradeoffs against other energy inputs”.