Like Oil and Water: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of the Environmental and Policy Challenges of Unconventional Extraction in North Dakota

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Ben Cashore
Essay Abstract: 
The rapid expansion of unconventional extraction in northwestern North Dakota since 2008 has resulted in significant economic growth and booming population levels at the expense of environmental stability. The state has yet to address this problem, and the scholarship on the ecological implications of hydraulic fracturing and associated development activities is incomplete. This essay uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the body of literature treating hydraulic fracturing’s environmental concerns, survey relevant North Dakota policy and
legislation, and explore publicly available datasets to determine environmental concerns in North Dakota. Uncertainty surrounding chemical use, the concentration of wells in ecologically valuable areas, and climate change emerge as primary issues. I use both natural and policy science to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the policy instruments available to North Dakota policymakers. I argue that the best policy approach would use information-based instruments, which foster public engagement and scientific advancement; regulatory mechanisms for chemical usage and wells in valuable areas; and market incentives to end unsustainable practices such as gas flaring. Enacting a comprehensive environmental policy to govern extraction is the only way for North Dakota to ensure long-term economic, environmental, and social health.