Backyard Politics, National Policies: Understanding the Opportunity Costs of National Fracking Bans
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Some local communities in the United States, particularly in the Northeast, are scrambling to oppose natural gas production enabled by hydraulic fracturing (or fracing, fracking, or hydrofracking) in shale formations. Local opposition to the impacts of fracking is understandable, but recent proposals for national bans ignore a key, more potent threat. Due to a mismatch between the benefits and costs of fracking, on the one hand, and the distribution of political and legal influence, on the other, the voices of those opposed to extraction may drown out the more distant voices of those suffering from the widespread future effects of coal—the primary fossil alternative to gas. Energy policy processes must recognize the opportunity costs of banning gas, including the consequences of continuing to rely on coal as our primary electricity source. The negative environmental impacts of natural gas extraction must be addressed, and our focus on gas ought not to divert attention from the need to develop more sustainable energy alternatives. However, policymakers should not adopt the myopic view advocated by some anti-fracking activists. Rather, policymakers should formulate energy policies that fully weigh the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action and consider the interests of those under-represented in the policy process.