COS 154-3 - Leveraging local authority to address local environmental problems: A hydraulic fracturing case study

Thursday, August 10, 2017: 2:10 PM
B110-111, Oregon Convention Center
Joshua U. Galperin, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT; Yale Law School, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is shorthand for a technique of oil and gas extraction that uses high pressure fluid injection and horizontal well drilling to produce significant quantities of oil and gas from previously unexploitable geologic deposits. Fracking saw a major boom in recent years, which brought with it significant controversy given the economic, community, end ecological impacts—both positive and negative—of the technology. While the fracking boom and controversy have waned in recent years, the new political order in the United States is expected to lead to another surge.

With increased fracking will come increased local ecological impacts and fervent local controversy surrounding the best way to manage these impacts. Developing a catalogue of potential local impacts from hydraulic fracturing, an assessment of legal regimes and authorities for governing fracking, and a series of case studies in local leadership, this research seeks to understand the scope of possible local tools for addressing the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and then to create a framework and clearinghouse for facilitating local communication and collaboration.


A literature review and expert interviews identified 46 local impacts from fracking. With this list—a novel though not comprehensive catalogue—I first present an outline of traditional local authority for addressing ecological concerns. This outline includes two overarching tools: planning and zoning. I then look to four local governments to determine how they implement traditional local tools in different circumstances. These case studies are (1) Arlington, Texas; (2) McKenzie County, North Dakota; (3) Robinson Township, Pennsylvania; and (4) Erie, Colorado. They demonstrate a range of governance techniques from information availability to detailed restrictions.

Having identified impacts, strategies, and then illustrated strategies through case studies, I next provide a framework for resolving fracking-related controversy in future instances. To that end, this project concludes with an interactive database allowing the public to access 46 specific fracking impact categories where they can sort through (1) detailed descriptions of the causes of each impact; (2) find peer-reviewed, popular media, and grey literature reports on each impact; and (3) access examples of local government attempts to address the specific impact.

This research provides information to empower participants in the fracking debate and helps local governments use existing authorities to manage fracking impacts.