I just wrote-up four reasons for Denton to ban fracking. But are they good reasons…should Denton really seek a ban? We need to examine counter arguments. I believe that responsible citizens listen to all sides of an issue rather than only to the perspectives they want to hear. This is the only way to achieve what my favorite feminist philosopher calls “strong objectivity.” Regardless of where you stand on the issue –consider other standpoints.
So, what are the reasons to not ban fracking?Argument 1: Prudence in the face of futility
Simply put, a ban will not withstand a legal challenge. But it will expose Denton taxpayers to a very costly lawsuit that may even have them paying out millions to compensate mineral holders. Fracking will continue but now after an expensive loss in court. If a ban can work at all, it would have to be at the state level. It is not fair or reasonable to expect a city council to do the impossible, and to adopt this extreme position will cause you to be ignored and your other ideas to be discounted. For a city to attempt a ban would invite more efforts from the state to strip municipalities of the power they do have to regulate drilling and production. Many at the state level are just waiting for this kind of excuse to push their agenda through. This would spoil things for every other municipality. This is why the city is so cautious - it does not want to set a precedent that haunts Denton and every other Texas city.Argument 2: An acceptable track record
There are over 450 wells in Denton. Yes, there have been incidents and accidents. But the same is true of any industry. These are occasions to improve the practice, perhaps restrict where it occurs to some extent, but not prohibit it. There has been no fracking catastrophe in Denton to warrant a wholesale ban that would deny peoples' property rights.Argument 3: Technical and regulatory fixes
Drilling and fracking for shale gas evolve quickly, bringing along new practices that reduce risks of harm. Reduced emissions completions, better cement, and new water recycling technologies are just some examples. Rather than ban the practice, critics would be better served to accelerate the development of such new practices and ensure that they are required through regulations. There are plenty of examples of smart regulations and improved practices minimizing environmental and public health problems – from smog reduction to soil conservation. 'Responsible fracking' need not be just lipstick on a pig: there are substantive ways to ensure acceptable - and ever improving - practices. Of course, this would also require increased resources for monitoring and enforcement.
Argument 4: Opportunity costsIt is easy to call for a ban on any technology if we only consider its downsides. Cars kill nearly 40,000 people every year in the US but we don’t ban them because they do plenty of good things too. A ban on fracking does not just eliminate the negatives but also the positives of natural gas. It generates jobs and wealth and has certain advantages over the major competitors – coal (dirtier combustion, mountaintop removal) and nuclear (high magnitude risk, radioactive waste) and hydropower (ecological harms). Solar and wind cannot replace the all-important capacity of natural gas to ramp up instantly to meet peak loads on the grid.
Well, I bet there are more and better arguments on both sides. Hopefully this chases them out into the open. If you are convinced by these arguments against a ban, but still think regulations are insufficient, then the strategy is to continue to lobby for stronger regulations and cunning uses of local power by our City Council members.