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Hydraulic Fracking, Shale Energy Development, and Climate Inaction: A New Landscape of Risk in the Trump Era

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Abstract

With the recent election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency, fossil fuel interests are poised to advance their entire energy agenda on a number of key fronts. Not only has Trump taken steps to increase oil and gas fracking, create more energy infrastructure projects, ramp up foreign fossil fuel exports, resurrect the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and bring back coal production to Appalachian communities, but he has also worked to dismantle most of the signature policies of the Obama administration to fight the effects of climate change. More importantly, he has surrounded himself with cabinet members and advisors who are not just indifferent to environmental problems, but openly hostile to their remediation through government regulations and policy-making. In this critical essay, we draw on sociological research to highlight some of the ongoing technological risks and socio-environmental impacts surrounding unconventional gas and oil development (UGOD) and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) operations. We briefly address how these hazards are likely to be exacerbated by the policies and cabinet appointments of the Trump administration—as well as the larger congressional Republican energy and environmental agenda—over the coming months. Finally, we conclude with some observations on the future direction of US energy policy in the Trump era and the amplified risks posed by the prospects of a new Third Carbon era driven by fracking and other methods of unconventional energy production.
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Hydraulic Fracking, Shale Energy
Development, and Climate Inaction:
ANew Landscape of Risk in the
TrumpEra
Anthony E. Ladd1
Loyola University New Orleans
Richard York
University of Oregon
Abstract
With the recent election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency, fossil fuel interests
are poised to advance their entire energy agenda on a number of key fronts. Not
only has Trump taken steps to increase oil and gas fracking, create more energy
infrastructure projects, ramp up foreign fossil fuel exports, resurrect the KeystoneXL
and Dakota Access pipelines, and bring back coal production to Appalachian
communities, but he has also worked to dismantle most of the signature policies of
the Obama administration to ght the eects of climate change. More importantly,
he has surrounded himself with cabinet members and advisors who are not just
indierent to environmental problems, but openly hostile to their remediation
through government regulations and policy-making. In this critical essay, we draw
on sociological research to highlight some of the ongoing technological risks and
socio-environmental impacts surrounding unconventional gas and oil development
(UGOD) and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) operations. We briey
address how these hazards are likely to be exacerbated by the policies and cabinet
appointments of the Trump administration—as well as the larger congressional
Republican energy and environmental agenda—over the coming months. Finally,
we conclude with some observations on the future direction of US energy policy in
the Trump era and the amplied risks posed by the prospects of a new ird Carbon
era driven by fracking and other methods of unconventional energy production.
Keywords: hydraulic fracturing, fracking, shale energy, unconventional oil and gas
development, energy policy in the Trump administration
1 Corresponding author: aladd@loyno.edu
Human Ecology Review, Volume 23, Number 1, 2017
66
Introduction
One of the rst executive actions of Republican President Ronald Reagan after
taking oce in January of 1981 was to order the dismantling of the 32 solar energy
panels that his predecessor, President Jimmy Carter, had installed on the roof of the
White House in 1979. e move was intended to signal not only a sharp ideological
departure from the energy policies of the Carter administration, but the beginning of
a full-scale political backlash against the role of the federal government in regulating
environmental pollution. History repeated itself on 20 January 2017, when newly
elected Republican President Donald Trump, as one of his rst executive actions,
ordered the removal of the policy page on climate change issues that his predecessor,
President Barack Obama, had ordered published on the White House website
during his second term (Parker, 2017). In its place was the Trump administration’s
new “America First Energy Plan,” a short and strident declaration calling for an end
to the “burdensome regulations on our energy industry” and the elimination of
“harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters
of the U.S. rule.” More specically, the Trump energy plan vowed to “embrace the
shale oil and gas revolution” by taking advantage of the “estimated $50 trillion in
untapped shale oil and natural gas reserves, especially on those federal lands that
the American people own” (White House, 2017). Nowhere in the document are
any references made to the controversial technological practices that will be used
to extract these energy deposits from deep beneath the surface of the ground and
oceans, nor any mention of the potential social or environmental costs associated
with the invasive industrial techniques—more commonly known as hydraulic
“fracking”—required for shale energy development (Bamberger & Oswald, 2014;
Finkel, 2015).
e controversy over unconventional gas and oil development (UGOD) and high-
volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) represents one of the most contentious arenas
of social and environmental conict in the US today (Bamberger & Oswald, 2014;
Crowe et al., 2015; Evensen et al., 2014; Gullion, 2015; Hauter, 2016; Ladd, 2013,
2014, 2017; Malin & DeMaster, 2016; Wilber, 2015). Proponents trumpet fracking
as an economic “game changer” that creates jobs, personal wealth, tax revenues,
rural revitalization, and energy independence from foreign oil. Other supporters,
including some environmental groups, view natural gas fracking as providing a
cleaner “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future that will lower carbon emissions,
as well as reduce the planetary risks posed by climate change (Cosgrove et al., 2015;
Gold, 2014; Wright, 2012; Yergin, 2011). While these discursive claims have been
challenged (Ladd, 2016; Ladd & Perrow, 2016), they represent some of the key
hegemonic narratives that the fossil fuel industry and its allies have advanced over
the past decade to legitimate the socio-environmental risks and prots associated
with UGOD/HVHF. For opponents, however, fracking represents myriad threats
Hydraulic Fracking, Shale Energy Development, and Climate Inaction
67
to water quality, aquifers, public health, rural landscapes, roads, property values,
animals, farm communities, and nature-based tourism, among other problems
(Eaton & Kinchy, 2016; Finkel, 2015; Ladd, 2017). “Fractivists” and other
environmental advocates view gas and oil fracking as not just another risky and
inecient energy source that keeps the nation chained to the fossil fuel treadmill
driving climate change, but a dangerous and unregulated technological process
that is linked to “every part of the environmental crisis, from radiation exposure to
habitat loss” (Steingraber, 2012, p. 175).
As a result of the rapid development of fracking technology and its ancillary
infrastructure—well pads, access roads, pipelines, compressor stations, wastewater
processing, export facilities, and more—shale gas and oil production has risen 12-
fold since 2005. During President Obama’s two terms in oce from 2009–16, over
80,000 new shale wells were drilled and fracked as a cornerstone of his administrations
“all of the above” energy policy. As a result, the US is projected to be a net exporter
of natural gas, and perhaps the world’s largest gas and oil producer, by as early as
2020 (Boudet et al., 2016; Ladd, 2016). Furthermore, the US Energy Information
Administration (EIA) has estimated that some additional 630,000 new onshore
wells may be required to extract all the technically recoverable reserves of oil and
gas beneath the nation’s landscape (Hauter, 2016, p. 7). Presently, over 15 million
Americans live within a mile of a fracked oil or gas well (Gold, 2014).
Given the boom–bust cycles of resource extraction and the Treadmill of Production
contradictions associated with oil and gas development (Freudenburg & Gramling,
1993; O’Conner, 1994; Schnaiberg, 1980), many observers have called attention
to what is perhaps the major economic paradox of the fracking frenzy today—that
is, the extent to which the boom in exploration, drilling, and shale extraction has
resulted in a short-term oversupply of oil and gas, as well as lower prices in the
marketplace (Christopherson, 2015). With the recent election of Donald J. Trump
to the Presidency, however, fossil fuel interests now see a chance to advance their
entire energy agenda on a number of key fronts. roughout the 2016 Presidential
campaign, Trump vowed to unnerve and undermine the prevailing “liberal elites”
of Washington (“Draining the Swamp”), and is moving rapidly to deliver on
that pledge. Not only has Trump vowed to increase oil and gas fracking, create
more energy infrastructure projects, ramp up foreign fossil fuel exports, resurrect
the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, bring coal production back to
Appalachian communities, and revitalize the dormant nuclear power industry, but
also dismantle most of the signature policies of the Obama administration to support
renewable energy and ght the eects of climate change (Fountain & Goode, 2016).
e number of active drilling rigs in the US has been rising since the election and
the Interior Department is considering opening up public lands around some two
dozen national monuments to drilling, coal mining, or other development (Bias,
2017). More importantly, Trump has surrounded himself with cabinet members
Human Ecology Review, Volume 23, Number 1, 2017
68
and advisors who are not just indierent to environmental problems, but openly
hostile to their remediation through government regulations and policy-making.
Indeed, not since the Reagan years of the 1980s and the Bush years of the early
2000s has the hydrocarbon and petrochemical interests of the Energy-Industrial
Complex had a potentially greater political ally in the White House.
Assessing the consequences of shale energy development and hydraulic fracking
are issues of critical importance for environmental sociology, particularly given
its prominent focus on technological risk, social impacts, and the role of energy
resources in societal-environmental interactions (Dunlap, 2015). In recent years,
the eld has generated an impressive research literature that helps situate fracking in
the context of other energy-related controversies, including nuclear power (Perrow,
1999), uranium mining (Malin, 2015), oil spills (Ritchie et al., 2012), drilling rig
disasters (Freudenburg & Gramling, 2011), coal production and mountain top
removal mining (Bell & York, 2010, 2012), as well as anthropogenic climate change
(Dunlap & Brulle, 2015).
In this critical essay, we draw extensively on sociological research to highlight some
of the ongoing technological risks and socio-environmental impacts surrounding
UGOD and HVHF operations. We then turn to a preliminary discussion of how
these existing threats and environmental inequalities are likely to be exacerbated by
the policies and prospective cabinet appointments of the Trump administration—as
well as the larger congressional Republican energy and environmental agenda—over
the coming months. Finally, we conclude with some observations on the future
direction of US energy policy in the Trump era and the inherent risks posed by
the prospects of a new ird Carbon era driven by fracking and other methods of
unconventional energy production.
Fractured communities: Risks and impacts
associated with unconventional gas and oil
fracking
Patented in the late 1940s by Haliburton but only commercially viable on a broad
scale for little more than a decade, hydraulic fracking refers to a controversial well
stimulation and completion technique where millions of gallons of water, sand,
and chemicals (many of which are toxic) are injected under extreme pressures into
deep underground shale deposits to fracture non-porous source rock formations
and release the trapped natural gas or oil to the surface (Cable, 2012; Ladd, 2013,
2014). Combined with innovations in seismic mapping and multidirectional
drilling, fracking has allowed for dramatic increases in the amount of oil and natural
Hydraulic Fracking, Shale Energy Development, and Climate Inaction
69
gas that can be extracted from previously inaccessible shale formations. ese
technical processes have been aided by the conuence of assorted laws, subsidies,
and infrastructural developments to increase energy production (Hauter, 2016).
e multiple technological risks and impacts associated with UGOD have raised
serious concerns among citizens, elected ocials, and scientists alike; over 450
community bans against fracking have been passed in 24 states, including cities
like Pittsburgh, and statewide moratoriums are in eect in New York, Vermont,
and Maryland (Klein, 2014). To date, nearly 700 peer-reviewed publications have
provided empirical evidence of the environmental, health, and social consequences
of the fracking boom taking place in over a dozen US shale regions (Finkel & Law,
2016; Ladd, 2017). Potential and known health impacts occur at every stage of
UGOD, including emission of air pollutants such as hydrogen sulde, nitrogen
oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and ground
level ozone from well venting, aring, heavy truck exhaust, and diesel powered
generators (Paulson & Tinney, 2015). In particular, citizen concerns over fracking
have revolved around its potential to contaminate local ground and surface waters
through methane migration, fracking uids, wastewater injection, radioactive
gases, carcinogenic compounds, corrosive salts, or radioactive elements like cesium
and uranium. Fracking uids, for example, typically include friction reducers,
surfactants, gelling agents, scale inhibitors, acids, corrosion inhibitors, antibacterial
agents, and clay stabilizers, among other hazardous compounds, and are known to
pose threats to plants, sh, aquatic life, and land animals (Gullion, 2015). Research
has also shown exposure to fracking uids to be associated with cancer, reproductive
disruptions, skin, eye, and respiratory symptoms, impairments of the brain and
nervous system, gastrointestinal and liver disease, as well as psychosocial stress
(Finkel & Law, 2016; Sangaramoorthy et al., 2016).
One of the most contentious issues surrounding fracking comes from the serious
groundwater contamination risks posed by the underground disposal of its
wastewaters through deepwell injection methods. Typically, between 15–80% of
the water used in fracking operations is forced back up to the surface of the well
each time it is fracked—which can be up to a dozen times over the life of a well. In
the US, 2.4 billion gallons of wastewater are injected daily under high pressure into
any of the 187,570 disposal wells that accept oil and gas waste across the country. It
is dicult to track the disposal of what the industry calls “produced water,” which
can contain over 300 toxic or hazardous compounds, including salt brines, heavy
metals, radioactive materials, hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds such
as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, and hydrogen sulde (Finkel, 2015;
Gullion, 2015; Heinberg, 2013; Johnston et al., 2016). Moreover, wastewater
injection has also been directly associated with increased seismic activity and more
than a thousand earthquakes in such states as Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas,
and Ohio (Raynes et al., 2016).
Human Ecology Review, Volume 23, Number 1, 2017
70
Beyond concerns over water quality, issues of water quantity have been viewed by
local residents and ocials as key impacts associated with UGOD, particularly the
drawing down of local aquifers, surface waters, or public water systems to provide
the roughly 2–7 million gallons of water required for each fracking episode (Ladd,
2013). With so many western states like California often experiencing severe
drought conditions and declining water availability due to climate change and
related weather events, many critics have assailed the oil and gas industry for its
enormous consumption of the scarce water resources needed for drinking, farming,
and other daily tasks (Hauter, 2016; Kinchy et al., 2015).
One of the major challenges for understanding the environmental and public health
threats from fracking is the tangle of laws that inhibits public visibility and research
on these issues. Despite regulations in most states requiring the disclosure of various
industrial chemicals, the so-called “Haliburton Loophole” (lobbied for by then-Vice
President and former Haliburton CEO Dick Cheney) allows oil and gas operators to
claim that their fracking additives are “proprietary secrets” that are exempted from
reporting under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Given too that UGOD
is exempt from other federal provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA), Clean
Air Act (CAA), Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation,
and Liability Act (CERCLA), Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know
Act (EPCRA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as several
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations related to hazardous waste
disposal, the degree of water and soil contamination caused by fracking is largely
unknown to the public (Heinberg, 2013; Kreuze et al., 2016).
Other key impacts of shale development include increased chemical spills, noise,
dust, light pollution, road damage, auto accidents, and transportation congestion
associated with the increased daily trac of the hundreds of heavy diesel trucks
used to transport the required water, chemicals, sand, drilling equipment, and other
production components to rural well sites (Heinberg, 2013; Ladd, 2014; Perrow,
2015; eodori, 2013; Wilber, 2015). Indeed, fracking has drawn extensive criticism
because of its greater social impacts than those incurred through conventional
methods of energy development—particularly those related to the industrialization
of rural areas, cost of living increases, dierential economic benets from signing
royalties and leasing contracts, tensions between surface and mineral rights owners,
increases in transient workers, crime, prostitution, rape, substance abuse, housing
shortages, psychosocial stress, and diminished social capital (Brasier et al., 2011;
Ellis et al., 2016; Hauter, 2016; Malin & DeMaster, 2016; Sangaramoorthy et al.,
2016; Willow, 2014). Finally, other recent research suggests that natural gas fracking
is not a ‘‘climate-friendly alternative’’ to coal and oil that will reduce our overall
greenhouse gas footprint, nor will it help avert the growing threat of global warming
and climate change that its advocates claim. When the expected growth (over
Hydraulic Fracking, Shale Energy Development, and Climate Inaction
71
150%) of methane emissions from shale gas production is factored in over the next
two decades, combined with the average methane loss/leakage to the environment
that occurs with all US natural gas production (6–12%), the overall hidden climate
footprint of shale gas fracking is arguably worse than coal or oil over its well-to-
consumer life cycle (Hauter, 2016; Ladd, 2016).
In sum, the fracking of a shale regions biophysical landscape for oil and gas
development inherently creates a system of dierential socio-environmental impacts
for local stakeholder groups and residents. Depending on how these impacts are
experienced over time, place, and audience, mediated by conicting discursive
frames of assorted institutional and residential voices, these synergistic forces can
produce the fracturing of a community’s ecosystem, sense of place, and social
fabric, as well as its patterns of political mobilization and democratic governance
(Ladd, 2017). Given the serious risks associated with UGOD and fracking cited
in the sociological/social scientic literature, we briey address how these hazards
are likely to be exacerbated by the policies and cabinet appointments of the
Trump administration, as well as the larger congressional Republican energy and
environmental agenda, over the coming months.
A new landscape of risk
While environmental disputes over UGOD have been growing since the release of
Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland in 2010 (Vasi et al., 2015), opposition to fracking
did not emerge as a national campaign issue until the 2016 Democratic Presidential
race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. During a primary debate in Flint,
Michigan, Sanders pledged to oppose fracking, while Clinton said she would be in
opposition only if a locality or state were against it, releases of methane or water
contamination were present, or fracking operators refused to report what chemicals
they were using (Leber, 2016). Clinton’s stance signied a signicant departure from
her previous enthusiastic support for natural gas fracking as part of the Obama
administration’s mixed resource use policies for maximizing domestic energy
production and maintaining the fossil fuel treadmill.
On the day before the Democratic National Convention, 10,000 citizens and
activists—including tribal members from a number of prominent western
indigenous nations—mobilized in Philadelphia to support the “March for a Clean
Energy Revolution” through the streets of the city. e protest march called on
political leaders to support a national ban on fracking, keep fossil fuels in the ground,
ensure environmental justice for all, and work for a quick and lasting transition to
a 100% clean energy economy (Ladd, 2017). While the march did not persuade
Human Ecology Review, Volume 23, Number 1, 2017
72
the Democratic Party to endorse a moratorium on fracking, the party platform did
call for a greater reliance on clean energy sources and support for the COP 21 Paris
Climate Accord, among other measures.
Laying the groundwork for the November election, however, the party platform,
passed at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, took aim at
“environmental extremists,” called the environmental movement “a self-serving
elite,” and promised to move responsibility for environmental regulation from “the
federal bureaucracy”—particularly the EPA—to the states where few scal resources
and commitments to government oversight exist (Mufson, 2016). Indeed, the
Republican energy plank, emphasizing climate change denial, industry deregulation,
and increased fossil fuel production, played a prominent role in motivating Donald
Trump’s political base to turn out for the Presidential election in states like Louisiana
and Texas (Hochschild, 2016).
With the Republican Party now in control of the executive and congressional
branches of government, as well as federal judicial appointments and the majority
of state governments, Americans are already witnessing a wholesale abandonment
of the bipartisan energy policies and regulatory regimes that have been in place
since the 1970s. Trump’s inner circle on environment and energy issues, including
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, (former ExxonMobil CEO), Secretary of Interior
Ryan Zinke (former Montana Congressman), Secretary of Energy Rick Perry
(former Texas Governor), Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (former Georgia
Governor), and most importantly, Administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency Scott Pruitt (former Attorney General of Oklahoma), all represent
longtime climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry advocates, as well as
steadfast opponents of international environmental accords like the Paris climate
agreement, federal protections for public lands, or independent scientic research
that addresses atmospheric or ecological threats. Indeed, Myron Ebell (Director
of a Washington, DC libertarian advocacy group nanced by the coal industry),
who was chosen by Trump to lead the administration’s transition team at the EPA,
called the environmental movement “the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity
in the modern world” (Rauber, 2017a: 21). Since taking oce at the EPA, Scott
Pruitt (who as the Oklahoma Attorney General sued the EPA over a dozen times
on behalf of state industries ghting to evade federal environmental regulations)
has worked to unwind several Obama administration–era climate policies, moved
to kill or delay regulations limiting toxic air emissions and water pollution from
coal-red power plants, advocated repeal of the Clean Water Rule, and supported a
rollback of regulations to prevent groundwater contamination and methane releases
from hydraulic fracking (Rauber, 2017b). Summing up the new Trump regime in
Washington, the New York Times observed that, “Across the federal government,
lobbyists and lawyers who once battled regulations on behalf of business are now
helping run the agencies they once clashed with” (Tabuchi & Lipton, 2017, p. 1).
Hydraulic Fracking, Shale Energy Development, and Climate Inaction
73
As of September 2017, the Trump administration is rapidly advancing an agenda that
represents a virtual carbon copy of the wish list of the fossil fuel industry, including:
constructing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as dozens of
oil and gas export facilities in North American coastal communities
abandoning the COP 21 Paris Climate Agreement
reducing/blocking funding for the EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), and climate research at the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA)—alongside extensive sta cuts
scrapping the Clean Power Plan
rescinding the Obama administrations ban on drilling in the Alaskan Arctic, as
well as regulations to limit methane leaks from wells and pipelines
increasing drilling and fracking on public lands and national monuments
increasing coal production and “clean-coal” technology.
Clearly, these proposed carbon-intensive policies cannot be understood in isolation
from the neoliberal deregulatory trends of the past three decades, nor detached
from the surge of campaign money unleashed by Citizens United into the coers of
Congressional representatives in key energy states (Perrow, 2015). e enactment
of the larger Republican environmental agenda will mean an expansion of oshore
and arctic drilling, tar sands development, mountaintop removal coal mining,
and other risky energy development policies, while rolling back existing federal
programs that encourage energy conservation, environmental justice, and scientic
research, as well as those that provide tax incentives and credits for solar, wind, and
biomass production—all being carried out, ironically, in the name of US “energy
independence.” After a two-year downturn in oil and gas prices, US production is
on the rise again, with the number of US drilling rigs growing from 450 in April
2016 to 602 as of March 2017 (Bias, 2017).
Given the deep ties of his advisors and cabinet ocials to hydrocarbon interests,
President Trump—who called climate change a Chinese hoax—is currently
presiding over what one researcher called “the most anti-science administration in
American history” (Proctor, 2016: 4). e President has so far only lled one of 46
vacant science and technology positions in his administration and the Department
of Energy has told sta in its climate oce not to use phrases like “climate change,
“emissions reduction,” or “Paris agreement.” In fact, one out of four Trump
administrative appointees at agencies dealing with environmental regulations has
ties to the fossil fuel industry, while half have no experience in the area in which they
now work (Rauber, 2017b, p. 21). Joining other protest declarations from dozens
of professional and business interests across the nation, over 420 environmental
sociologists signed and released a statement in February 2017 denouncing Trump’s
cabinet picks and anti-climate policies (Hirji, 2017).
Human Ecology Review, Volume 23, Number 1, 2017
74
It is axiomatic to environmental sociologists that energy matters—arguably now
more than at any time in recent US history. At its roots, the controversy over
fracking can be seen as a subset of the larger conict over the future direction of
American (and global) energy policy, as well as the resources, technologies, and
industry elites who will shape US political and economic interests well into the
twenty-rst century. As observers have noted since the Arab oil embargoes of the
1970s, the nation continues to stand at a critical historical crossroads dened by
two mutually exclusive and environmentally distinct energy futures. e question
remains the same. Will the US fossil fuel industry and its allies be permitted to
expand its hegemonic control over an emerging “ird Carbon Era”—a future
dened by unconventional fossil fuel dependence, intensive hydraulic fracking
for shale deposits deep beneath the earth and oceans, industry deregulation, and
the continued control over the energy sector by essentially the same transnational
corporations that control the market today? Or will the democratic majority create
the political mechanisms necessary to initiate the transition to a clean energy
society dened by curtailing energy consumption, replacement of fossil fuels with
renewable resources, ecient technologies, and green economic policies over the
next two decades (Ladd, 2016)?
As the environmental storm clouds gather over the nations capitol and beyond,
the contested terrain of risk and benet associated with increased hydrocarbon
production and hydraulic fracking will continue to divide the nation like never
before, especially in regions with large shale deposits, energy infrastructures, water
shortages, and growing populations (Food and Water Watch, 2015; etford,
2013). All told, we believe that the study of unconventional shale development
oers fertile ground for environmental sociologists and other researchers who want
to better understand one of the leading sources of conict today that is fracturing
both the community and the ecosystem on which humans depend.
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... A weakening of environmental regulations had already been in the works, with the neoliberalization of polities like Alberta's since the 1980s [43]. But the particular material features of non-conventional fuels such as bitumen and shale took things up a notch, as Alberta joined other petro-producing states in reducing rents, creating additional fiscal incentives and subsidies, and weakening regulations to provide a 'fast-track' approval process to encourage hesitant investors [32,[43][44][45][46][47][48]. U.S. lawmakers were persuaded to exempt hydraulic fracturing drilling practices from regulatory coverage under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the disclosure requirements established by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and even the National Environmental Policy Act [32,46]. ...
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Oil and gas producers have become increasingly reliant on the extraction of marginal and ‘non-conventional’ resources, like deep-sea deposits, bitumen, and shale gas, which are associated with lower economic returns, and higher social and environmental risks. In order to maintain development trajectories amidst a growing chorus of concerned citizens, state and industry advocates of fossil fuel development must not only manufacture consent, they must silence dissent. While there are a number of means to do so at the disposal of state and corporate development advocates, one particularly effective strategy is through enacting restrictions on democratic rights through legislation. The effectiveness of such efforts, however, requires subtle shifts in policy that often escape notice until the ink is dry, and the consequences emerge incrementally, case by case. We term this tactic leg- islative slippage, analogous to the bureaucratic slippage documented by Freudenburg and Gramling (1992). We provide a case study of legislative slippage in Alberta, Canada, exhibited in two legislative acts passed in recent years. The legislative slippage observed has direct implications for the rights of citizens to express con- cerns about energy development, constraining a key process through which states are compelled to take mea- sures to protect the environment.
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... Since the release of Josh Fox's film documentary Gasland in 2010, the controversy over UOGD and high volume hydraulic fracturing has constituted one of the most contentious arenas of social and environmental conflict in the U.S. today (Ladd 2018). To help combat charges that UOGD in shale communities has damaged groundwater sources, aquifers, air quality, public health, rural landscapes, farms, roads, property values, animals, and recreational tourism, among other problems, industry advocates have responded with the counternarrative that hydraulic fracking represents an economic "game changer" that creates jobs, personal wealth, tax revenues, rural revitalization, and energy independence from foreign oil or coal (Ladd and York 2017). Moreover, fracking proponents have adopted the industry mantra that natural gas fracking provides a cleaner, "bridge fuel" to a renewable energy future that will lower carbon emissions and reduce the planetary risks posed by climate change (Gold 2014;Wright 2012;Yergin 2011). ...
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... 156), which shows that there is a strong ideological component underpinning the polarization. The persistent polarization around climate change has led to political inaction in industrialized countries such as the United States (Ladd & York, 2017). ...
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