January 01, 2013

Vantage Point

Jean Feriancek

Extraction of oil and gas, and of other minerals, raises issues that just about everyone feels very strongly about. In particular, it would be difficult not to be aware of the polarized views among the American public with respect to hydraulic fracturing of shale or tight formations, or “fracking” as it is commonly called. At one extreme are those who maintain that the use of fracking should be banned altogether, on the grounds that it is polluting the nation’s drinking water supply with noxious chemicals and making people sick and cannot be done safely. People at the other end of the spectrum maintain that there should be little or no governmental regulation of fracking, because the reports of environmental harm associated with fracking are wrong or overblown, or because such regulation will stifle economic development and reduce our nation’s energy security. In this issue of NR&E, we look at issues associated with oil and gas development, including fracking, from a number of different perspectives. One feature article focuses on management of fracking risk, and examines whether the hazards associated with fracking can be addressed by insurance that currently is available. Given the level of public awareness and concerns expressed about fracking, it is not surprising that in the last few years legislatures in many states have passed new laws requiring disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, increasing water quality protection or spill monitoring or otherwise addressing fracking. We include an article discussing the status of federal regulation of fracking and surveying the rapidly changing and disparate state laws and regulations governing its use. Local governments also have gotten into the picture, enacting ordinances that purport to prohibit oil and gas activity or regulate where and how it can occur within their boundaries. The issue of whether such local ordinances are preempted by state oil and gas or mining statutes is the subject of an article featured in this issue. We also include an article looking at the regulatory nexus between produced water extracted from oil and gas wells and water rights law in the arid western states.

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