You don’t have to look far to encounter “fracking,” shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting oil and gas from the earth by injecting a mixture of chemicals, sand, and water into shale rock formations deep underground at high pressures. Fracking itself is not a novel technology, but the advent of horizontal drilling, which allows drillers to drill across broader swaths of rock, has improved the return on investment for pioneering oil and gas companies. The result is a proliferation of wells in places like Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and West Virginia; and controversy in places like New York, Vermont, and California, among others. Proponents see fracking as a panacea that will make the United States a top global producer of natural gas, and move the country away from coal and toward cleaner energy. Opponents point to the myriad questions that surround fracking, its risks, and the ultimate effects it may have on the communities in which it takes place.
Among such questions is also the question of who will regulate, the states or the federal government. In the past few months I’ve been invited to share my research on this question. My current project, entitled, Is Fracking the Next Financial Crisis? A Development Lens for Understanding Systemic Risk and Governance, enters the regulatory debate, and argues that rather than view fracking as a one-off method of development, we should see fracking as “hybridity,” a term I created to describe an approach to development that is not easily regulated, engages a public good, and creates systemic risk. In the project, I draw parallels to the financial crisis of 2008 and the deep-sea drilling technology that led to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Each phenomenon, I argue, is hybridity. This project is an effort to illuminate and define hybridity, which could lead to more innovative approaches to stemming the systemic risks that often accompany it. Moreover, viewing fracking as hybridity could provide fresh insight into the ongoing regulatory debate.