Eco Policy Blog: Frack Off

February 6, 2012

President Obama, in the State of the Union address, promised to open federal lands to “fracking” to create 600,000 jobs. Not only will fracking solve unemployment, but there is enough gas to fuel our country for 100 years. What does this new support mean for land within state jurisdiction?

Fracking is a nickname for hydraulic fracturing – a technique to remove natural gas from rock by injecting high-pressured liquid and chemicals into the rock to break it up. The environmental concerns with the practice revolve around clean drinking water, air pollution and, now, earthquakes. The EPA is studying whether fracking has contaminated groundwater. Earthjustice has a map of high-profile “fraccidents” in the U.S. you can see here.

In pursuance of federalism, states have been fracking for several years on state and private land. But the President’s announcement comes in the midst of heated debate within state jurisdictions who are considering fracking bans, how to regulate and whether wastes should cross state lines. Obama’s new support of the industry could influence what state lawmakers do.

There are already examples of this happening. As New York considers lifting a three year fracking ban, some lawmakers perceive Obama’s support as a directive to go ahead on state land that is currently off-limits. On the other hand, the President’s remarks could be worrying enough to get a reaction where there was none before. Students in Mount Pleasant, Michigan have asked the city council to ban fracking as a result of the speech. Rockingham County, VA is studying the impacts of drilling in the Marcellus Shale, after a company has applied for a well permit.

Obama’s new support of fracking could instill confidence in localities like Rockingham who are considering permitting. And clarified federal regulations, to be announced in a few weeks, may help answer questions and concerns lingering at the state level, paving the way for more fracking on state land.

Caitlin Kilpatrick
Master of Public Policy Candidate, Class of 2013
Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy

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