Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is perhaps the most important energy discovery in the last half century. As a result of fracking, U.S. production of oil and natural gas has increased dramatically. This increase has abruptly lowered energy prices, strengthened energy security and even lowered air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions by displacing coal in electricity generation. The lower energy prices have meant more money in the pockets of American families and businesses. And the lower emissions is certainly good news for our health with large reductions in air pollution dispersed across the country and, at least for the near term, our climate.
Whether or not we as a society continue to gain from the broad benefits of fracking rests on the shoulders of the local communities where drilling takes place, or could take place. These communities must determine if the local benefits exceed the local costs, a calculation that requires a lot of information to be done well. Over the past year, we have been part of two research efforts that have shed light on what’s at stake in the choices communities are making.