Hydrocarbon Hysteria: Differentiating Approaches to Consumption and Contamination in Regulatory Frameworks Governing Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction.

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A variety of methods of extracting natural resources and, in particular, those utilised to produce energy from hydrocarbons,1 provide facts and statistics (of both questionable and acclaimed origin) which shock and appal, or garner considerable support. However, as more research and consideration is given to these, the more realism inevitably emerges in relation to their regulation. In an interesting study of risk it was submitted by Jaeger that, “There can be little doubt that the world economy presently is locked into a path involving a large array of quite serious risks�, and that this path is heavily determined by “its dependency on increasing energy use� at the risk of “ecosystem destruction�.2 It is likely that projects seeking to extract previously unconsidered hydrocarbon resources to quench our undeniable thirst for energy will inevitably continue in some form and to some degree. This means regulation will be increasingly difficult and it must be accepted that certain factors cannot be changed. This article will concentrate, for the purposes of illustration ,on two examples of hydrocarbon extraction below their “peak�3 in the eyes of scientists to illustrate the theoretical and regulatory issues. The first is the extraction of the so-called oil or tar sands4 in Alberta, Canada.5 The material is a partially liquid and partially solid material constituting a mixture primarily of bitumen, water and sand, amongst other elements, often frozen solid during winter owing to its water content. Once extracted from the mixture, the bitumen can be distilled to produce more widely used fuels. The raw material is extracted either by conventional open cast mining,6 or a number of methods involving the injection of either heated fluid mixtures or steam at high pressure to liquefy the mixture underground, allowing it to be pumped out in a manner akin to conventional crude oil. The second extraction of hydrocarbons is that of “fracking� or hydraulic fracturing. This is the extraction of natural gas through the process of injecting mixtures of water, sand and other chemicals into formations of shale, other rocks, and even coal to allow gas trapped within the seams to flow out and be collected at the well head. The same process is also used to obtain “tight oil� where oil rather than gas is trapped in such a fashion.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Planning and Environment Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

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