Shale Gas and the Future of Energy
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Shale Gas and the Future of Energy

Law and Policy for Sustainability

Edited by John C. Dernbach and James R. May

The rapid growth of shale gas development has led to an intense and polarizing debate about its merit. At the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, countries around the world concluded that the transition to sustainability must be accelerated. This book asks and suggests answers to the question that has not yet been systematically analysed: what laws and policies are needed to ensure that shale gas development helps to accelerate the transition to sustainability?
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Chapter 5: Sustainability and community responses to local impacts

Diana Stares, James McElfish and John Ubinger Jr.


When shale gas development takes place in communities it challenges the economic, social and environmental sustainability of those communities. Development activities affect homes, public institutions and services, infrastructure, quality of life, environmental resources and community amenities. While state and national forms of regulation offer ways to address and standardize various industry practices, these are not sufficient to address all community interests. Moreover, the issuance of site-by-site permits typically does not address the cumulative effects of multiple development activities by different operators. Using the experiences of Pennsylvania, which has been the epicenter of the Marcellus shale play, this chapter discusses the benefits and limitations of various local responses to the development. These include the use of local land use regulations that may address compatibility with surrounding land uses, notice of certain on-site activities, provision for community benefits and offsets of impacts to community resources, and requirements related to long-term site reuse. Building on the growing recognition of the need for a social license to operate, responses also can involve community engagement with individual operators that can provide for meaningful dialogue between operators and communities. This dialogue can help communities to understand the operators’ site and operating plans and enable them to advance measures that will protect community interests, such as maintaining barriers to sensitive areas and setting limits for light, noise, dust and vibration impacts. Cumulative impacts may be addressed by establishing consensual protocols that all operators within a region would undertake to follow. For issues that cannot be satisfactorily addressed through any of these land use regulation or dialogue approaches, communities can consider implementation of structured stakeholder engagement processes that can result in collaborative decisions as to how shale development will occur in the community. A given community’s experience will ultimately be determined by its identification of and responses to impacts and the ability of its local officials to engage effectively on behalf of its citizens with operators and regulators.

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