"Strong Regulations Would Kill the Boom."
Dead wrong. The technology at the heart of the U.S. oil and gas boom has become central to the battle between the environmental community and the oil and gas industry. Drillers and their allies have often resisted new regulation, insisting that the industry is already heavily regulated at the state level and that fears of fracking are overblown. Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, captures the sentiment well, warning that more regulation could "kill the technology that's taking us to energy independence." Green groups have hit back with demands for stricter oversight of fracking, highlighting threats to air and water and disruptions to local communities. The Sierra Club has gone so far as to launch a "Beyond Natural Gas" campaign to accompany its efforts to move "Beyond Coal" and "Beyond Oil."
Some warnings, like an alarm in early 2011 that Pittsburgh's tap water was radioactive, have been over the top. Executed properly, development of shale gas and oil can be done in ways that safeguard the environment and protect communities. But there are always bad apples and sloppy operators. They require not only solid regulation, which often exists at the state level, but also strong enforcement and penalties to deter and punish violators, which too often do not exist.
This is not only about preventing bad behavior -- it's a matter of building public trust. Operators that refuse, for example, to support mandatory disclosure of the chemicals they use in fracking inevitably raise suspicions. That's true regardless of whether those chemicals actually endanger public health. Industry is at its best when it helps craft regulations that protect people and the environment while allowing robust development to proceed apace. But those who instinctively oppose stricter rules are sowing the seeds of their own misfortune: Robust regulation might add a few percentage points to the cost of producing natural gas, but weak regulation will sap confidence, and if communities shut down drilling, the price of natural gas will rise a lot more.