There's a Third Option in the Fracking Debate

by J.J. Summerell
Chair, Libertarian Party of North Carolina

The General Assembly just rushed through a bill essentially lifting the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in North Carolina, even before the rules being drafted by a state appointed commission to regulate the process have had a public hearing.

Many people are adamantly opposed to this, while others are just as certain that this is essential for our state's economic development. Partisans on both sides of the issue have, and probably will continue to, talk past one other, rather than honestly and reasonably discuss the merits or dangers associated with the process This seems another clear case where petty partisan politics gets in the way of good government.

Even for those of us who believe in property rights and the free market, and who oppose unnecessary government regulation and interference in the economy, some provisions of the Senate bill are troubling.

For one, it allows companies to keep the chemicals they inject into the ground during the process secret from the public. It also allows them to drill under someone's land without the owners permission. And it limits the drilling company's liability for cleanup after the drilling is finished and for any pollution their business activity may cause.

All these issues need to be addressed in a reasonable and rational discussion. But whether or not you are opposed to or support fracking, there is a third course that may be the most practical: “doing nothing.”

This may be the best thing for three reasons.

First, it doesn't appear to me that we have good scientific data. If the environmental risks are unknown, then there are environmental risks. If we delay a decision by five years, or fifty, we'll have a much more confident assessment of the risks involved in, and the costs of mitigating those risks.

Second, natural gas is currently at a very low price. Energy prices almost always increase over long term time periods and I strongly suspect this will be true for natural gas.

Finally, fracking is a technology, and if we've learned anything at all from the computer industry, the cost of technologies generally decrease over time.

So, if we can maximize revenues and minimize costs in order to maximize profits, all while developing a much more sound and reliable environmental strategy, it would be our most prudent course of action. By “doing nothing”we are actually doing something very important. We are gifting this resource to our unborn grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Published in the Fayetteville Observer on June 7.

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