Can Shale Gas Help Accelerate the Transition to Sustainability?

Few energy issues in recent decades have proven as contentious as shale gas. The rapid recent development of shale gas in the United States has reduced gas prices, helped the U.S. economy recover from the recent recession, reduced U.S. dependence on foreign energy supplies, and even apparently helped reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But adverse air and water quality impacts as well as community disruption raise large questions about the desirability of shale gas. Supporters and opponents often speak in such strikingly different divergent terms that they seem to be describing different activities. Sustainable development would force a more complete understanding of whether shale gas contributes to overall human wellbeing.  Yet relatively little has been written about the extent to which shale gas can contribute so sustainable development.

Professor James May of Widener University Law School in Wilmington, Delaware, and I have recently published an article in Environment on this issue. We conclude that sustainable shale gas development:

  • 1. Requires a sophisticated and comprehensive regulatory system to protect the environment and public health as well as a legal and policy framework capable of both ensuring significant social and economic benefits and ensuring that no one is made socially or economically worse off in absolute terms.
  • 2. Must be nested in ambitious national and international energy and climate change laws to ensure that it is a bridge fuel to a sustainable future, and does not delay or divert from that objective.
  • 3. Must occur within a political and legal system that is committed to accelerating the transition to sustainability.

You can find the article here.    For an editorial by Timothy O’Riordan, who is emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, entitled “Fracking, Sustainability, and Democracy, click here.