Monday, January 7, 2013

How Much Risk Is Too Much?

The New York Times reports that an analysis done by the state of New York has shown that drilling for natural gas using hydrofracking poses minimal risks to people and the environment, but some environmentalists are not satisfied and, despite the enormous economic benefits that would accrue to the people of the state, still oppose fracking:
The state’s Health Department found in an analysis it prepared early last year that the much-debated drilling technology known as hydrofracking could be conducted safely in New York, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.

The analysis and other health assessments have been closely guarded by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration as the governor weighs whether to approve fracking. Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has long delayed making a decision, unnerved in part by strident opposition on his party’s left. A plan to allow a limited amount of fracking in the state’s Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border is still seen as the most likely outcome, should the drilling process receive final approval.

The eight-page analysis is a summary of previous research by the state and others, and concludes that fracking can be done safely. It delves into the potential impact of fracking on water resources, on naturally occurring radiological material found in the ground, on air emissions and on “potential socioeconomic and quality-of-life impacts.”
According to a WSJ piece quoted in Hot Air the stakes are pretty high:
According to the Manhattan Institute, lifting the fracking ban in New York could result in $11.4 billion in economic output and $1.4 billion in tax revenues, not to mention 15,000 to 18,000 new jobs.
Environmentalists, the Times piece notes, have raised some pertinent caveats to the state health department's report, but at some point the governor has to ask how low the risk of harm has to be and how serious must the potential harm to humans and the environment be to warrant continuing the ban on drilling. Some environmentalists seem to be of the opinion that any risk at all and any amount of harm are simply not worth it.

That's a position that, in this economy, seems awfully hard to defend.