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“The lesson of ‘Gasland’ is that public perception is a very big part of the equation,” said Jonathan Wood, a political risk analyst at London-based Control Risks, whose clients include oil companies.
In a report this month, Wood wrote that the industry has “largely failed to appreciate social and political risks, and has repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed and influence of anti-fracking activists.”
Hydraulic fracturing entails pumping water laced with chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations to break them up and unleash hydrocarbons.
The minerals are trapped thousands of feet below water tables, but critics worry that fracking fluids or hydrocarbons can still leak into water tables from wells, or above ground. Among their other concerns: fracking-related earthquakes, and growing dependence on fossil fuels.
The United States now rivals Russia as the world’s top gas producer, in large part due to fracking, and has stemmed a long decline in oil output, which stands at an 18-year high near 7 million barrels a day.
So far, the Obama administration has cautiously endorsed the new drilling, but the U.S. Department of Interior is working on new fracking rules on public lands starting next year.
Some drillers have faced fracking-related fines for water contamination due to spilled fracking fluid. Last year, after sampling water in rural Pavillion, Wyoming, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the first-ever U.S. government finding of a potential link between fracking and water contamination.
More broadly, however, the EPA condones fracking on safety grounds. But unlike the growing consensus among climate scientists linking global warming and industrial activity, there is no consensus that fracking poses a danger. Unconventional drilling has surged only over the last half decade.
The EPA will release an in-depth study on fracking’s potential impacts on water supplies in 2014.
Tough economic times can widen support for drilling. A national Gallup poll this year showed that more Americans favored prioritizing economic growth over the protection of the environment (49 percent versus 41 percent).
That’s a reversal from 2007, when 55 percent favored environmental protection.
Cuban is betting the hot potato issue will draw viewers to “FrackNation” on his cable channel.
“Op-Ed-umentaries like this are supposed to make people think about the topic, which is always a good thing,” he said.