As California consults local residents on proposed fracking regulations over the next week, its officials would do well to look at what is happening across the other states of America.
Politicians in the UK, where the fracking boom is about to take off big time, should also study what has happened in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas.
And if they do, they will find widespread problems of pollution.
An investigation by the Associated Press has found that, in at least four major fracking states, there have been hundreds of complaints from local residents.
The AP’s findings are in direct contrast to bold reassurances from the oil industry that complaints are rare and isolated events.
In Pennsylvania, there were just under 500 complaints in 2012, with a further 400 in 2013, concerning water pollution or constrained water flow. Complaints by residents have led to over 100 confirmed cases of pollution in five years in the state.
The journalists have also had to fight hard to uncover the information, with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, for one, “aggressively” rebuffing efforts by the AP and other news organisations to release details of the pollution.
The Department has even lamely argued in court that it does not bother to count how many contamination “determination letters” it issues or even whether it bothers to track where complaints are kept on file.
In Texas, there have been over 2,000 complaints, with just over sixty of those alleging possible well-water contamination from oil and gas activity. In credit to the Texas officials, the AP notes that officials here released a 94 page spreadsheet “almost immediately”. Meanwhile, in Ohio there had been nearly 200 complaints over the last four years, and just over 120 complaints in West Virginia.
Scott Anderson, an expert on oil and gas drilling with the Environmental Defense Fund, argues that the more regulators try and hide information, the more this will fuel public distrust of the industry. “If the industry has nothing to hide, then they should be willing to let the facts speaks for themselves. The same goes for regulatory agencies,” he told the AP.
Meanwhile it is not just communities who are complaining about the fracking revolution.
According to the Financial Times, the US shale boom has left investors “underwhelmed”. The FT notes that since the beginning of 2008, the exploration and production oil and gas sector in the US has “underperformed”, only rising 16 per cent, in contrast to the market which has risen nearly double that at 28 per cent.
The FT warns: “For some opponents of shale production, the poor returns are proof that the whole industry is a bubble that must eventually collapse.”
Although the bubble may not burst just yet, how long the boom can continue with this level of community dissatisfaction and pollution is anyone’s guess.