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“Fracking” is shoptalk for hydraulic fracturing. The technology uses mixtures of fluids and sand under pressure to crack rocks underground and prop open the cracks.
In the right rocks, the technique frees natural gas trapped in mini-pockets and adds greatly to the nation’s supply of the popular fuel.
It works too for extracting oil. The industry proudly promotes fracking. A persistent TV ad shows a lady riding a see-through elevator deep into the Earth to highlight the value of fracking while suggesting no risks.
But everything has risks. The chance of error and unknowns lurks on every side.
The policy questions are what are the risks, who bears the risks and how can the total risk be cut.
All this makes fracking a good place to try more efficient regulation.
Industry favors self-regulation. Can a system of self-regulating be made efficient from end to end?
That is, from designing operations that cut environmental losses and economic cost to ensuring compliance.
A modern system to do fracking this way can be built on seven steps:
•Identify needed data that industry operators are required to supply.
•Identify the kinds of harm that can occur to aquifers, surface water and the ground itself.
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