Fundamentals of Shale Energy Development: Geology, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Environmental, Geopolitical and Socio-economic Impacts

Social License

Social License

Shale energy development has led to a significant amount of public opposition, especially with hydraulic fracturing and pipelines. For example in the United States, New York, and Maryland have banned hydraulic fracturing, and a de facto moratorium exists in the Delaware River Basin, thus affecting industry’s access to the Marcellus Shale formation in these states and watersheds, while some countries like France have banned shale development altogether. Citizens expect that their government should have reasonable standards in place that protect their health and safety. In the absence of these assurances, citizens and communities have taken matters into their own hands in many cases, restricting the industry’s access to resources or implementing their own standards and safeguards. These numerous local ordinances banning hydraulic fracturing makes one realize that absent public confidence in the regulatory system, the oil and gas industry can lose its access to drilling rights without the public's consent. Therefore the industry needs its "social license" to operate in order for community members and stakeholders to have confidence that the industry will be protective of the environment and human health.

Dr. Kathy Brasier discusses the nature of social license and how it has become a critical component with shale energy development

Video: Kathy Brasier, Social License (3:16)

Click here for the video transcript.

Kathy Brasier: Social license and its role in shale energy development needs to be understood in the context of the history of the mining industry. Mining, particularly in the 60s and 70s, had a number of protests in countries outside the United States and those protests largely came because residents felt like they didn't have any say over what was happening, minerals being extracted without benefit to them, and oftentimes some rather bad practices in those communities. So it had roots in a corporate social responsibility model in which companies were trying to create a good relationship in the communities to avoid protests and to avoid direct action. And it was a chance for them to maintain legitimacy and access to those resources and protect the reputation of the companies. It's now grown outside of mining to almost all extractive industries. And in terms of shale, the idea is that oil and gas companies not only need the approval of people whose land they're on but also the approval of people broadly, around energy. They need the approval of regulators and other community members to avoid protests and to some extent to avoid stricter regulation. So they've enacted good neighbor policies, philanthropic practices in the communities in which they work, more protective practices, particularly around environmental issues. But they've also advertised the benefits they have, so they're seeking to build relationships in the communities in which they work. Some people look at this and see it's more of a greenwashing, that it's very small efforts compared to the larger benefit that the companies receive from the action in their communities. It's a relatively new concept in the U.S. And in the context of shale in the U.S., one big difference is property rights and the leasing practices. Whereas in other countries landowners may not own the minerals around them. In the U.S., private land ownership and private ownership of the subsurface rights, means that there's a contractual obligation that the companies have to fulfill that sets out those practices. So in the U.S., it's mostly in the form of good neighbor policies and protective regulatory practices that meet or exceed state or federal regulations. So one important part of the social license in the u.s. context, because of the way that the private property rights work in the U.S., is that companies are really looking to establish a reputation, a strong reputation. And that helps them attract corporate investment, it helps them with future leasing opportunities, and it does go towards helping them think about what are the regulatory systems that would most benefit them, and gives them an argument space for making their case in the legitimacy of their practices.

In some cases, citizens have teamed with environmental organizations or universities to collect field data such as water and air samples to ensure there have been no impacts to the environment or to establish baseline conditions before drilling operations commence.

Dr. Kathy Brasier discusses the role of citizen scientists with shale energy development.

Video: Kathy Brasier, Citizen Scientists (1:28)

Click here for the video transcript.

David Yoxtheimer: Can you talk about the role that citizen scientists may play in shale energy development?

Kathy Brasie: I think citizen science that scientists have an important role to play particularly around documenting environmental change associated with development here the shale network has been a very strong proponent of gathering data gathered by citizen scientists and bringing it into a conversation with researchers who can then examine that data and look for changes over time I think it's a it plays a really critical role for people's sense of control over development and their ability to to sense have a sense of engagement with this development that may feel very outside of their control particularly if they're not a landowner and it gives them a chance to to be to act in a protective way around resources that are really critically important to them and that is largely a reason why they live where they do so it gives them a sense and an actual ability to influence the way a development occurs that's been the experience here and other opportunities through air quality monitoring they can be part of those kinds of studies I think that that data gathering and analysis process can be really critically important

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