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Note: Drilling and Community Consent: How Oil and Gas Boards Can Address the Public Health Threats Posed by Fracking

By Ellie Bastian. Full text here.

Natural gas is heralded by the political right as a path to energy independence; it is heralded on the left as a bridge to cleaner energy. Fracking, a commonplace method for natural gas extraction, is not going away any time soon. Along with the boon of natural gas come potential risks to human health and general environmental health caused by fracking.

What are your options if your neighbors decide to frack on their property? In most states, there are not many. If you somehow learn of the planned fracking in advance, often the most you can do is (1) move away; or (2) start formally documenting your air and water quality. Maybe, after you are treated for a neurological disease, or your child develops asthma, or your house is damaged in a fracking-related earthquake, you will have the requisite evidence to file a nuisance claim.

This Note analyzes the state-level oil and gas agencies that issue permits for fracking. Some states provide more protections for public health and public participation than other states. For example, both Montana and Colorado have designed relatively strong oil and gas agencies: Montana allows any citizen to formally challenge a new permit request, and Colorado includes specialists in public health and the environment in its agency. However, neither state goes far enough. After assessing the oil and gas agencies of ten states, this Note concludes that nearby property owners and communities should be informed about a drilling project before it occurs. Furthermore, the oil and gas agencies themselves should prioritize public health. This can be achieved by changing the composition of such agencies (e.g., so that not all members represent petroleum interests) and by creating epidemiological monitoring systems at all drilling operations. Instead of squabbling with another agency about public health, the oil and gas agencies would need to make such considerations from within and more objectively weigh the risks when issuing any permit.