Hydrofracking for natural gas in shale formations has generated a heated national debate, complicating and in some cases preventing efforts to extract the resource. Critics of hydrofracking cite the process’ uncertain environmental and geologic risks. Meanwhile, natural gas developers and policymakers have been working to identify and implement technical standards and best practices to overcome or reduce these risks to negligible levels.

In my home state of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said of hydrofracking: “Let’s get the facts. Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”

I agree. State of the art technology and responsible operators can reduce the known risks of energy production and use, but there is always some risk. But natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, reducing emissions of CO2 by a third relative to oil, and half in comparison to coal. It is also an ideal process fuel for the chemical industry, now rebuilding in the US after massive contractions during the high gas prices of the “pre-shale” days. The economic boon in production regions such as Pennsylvania and Arkansas has created thousands of jobs, and millions in revenue for shareholders, local communities and governments. All as we lessen our dependence on oil from unstable regions.

Economic and energy benefits do not justify environmental harm, however; and we must be careful that one environmental goal, like climate, does not unduly overshadow others, like water quality, natural landscapes, and human health. What is needed to navigate these tough issues is a thorough, careful public dialogue, and, like the Governor says, the facts. It hasn’t been perfect, but I do think that we’re having such a dialogue, and we are getting the facts. I think it would be a mistake to not make the most of our natural gas resources. I also think it would be a mistake to not do so with the utmost care and environmental stewardship.

What do you think about hydrofracking? About domestic natural gas development? What’s the net outcome in the debate over natural gas’s risks and benefits? How can we ensure an optimal risk-benefit dynamic?

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