Do we understand the risks of shale oil and natural gas?

The growth and development of the domestic shale oil and natural gas boom has led to a great deal of enthusiasm, particularly in the United States. After years of being told that the nation was hopelessly dependent on foreign oil, there is now a domestic solution that can potentially create jobs and maintain steadier energy prices.

But despite the numerous economic benefits associated with the oil boom, it is still true that the techniques used to achieve it—such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling—pose environmental risks. The question is: do we know what these risks are?

Writing for the Guardian, contributor Stephen Leahy argues that we do not, in fact, have all the information necessary to fully evaluate the risks that these techniques pose. He cites a recent peer-reviewed study conducted at the University of Wisconsin, which concluded that much more work needs to be done.

"Forests or grasslands that were once continuous are now islands fragmented by a dense web of roads, pipelines and well pads," study co-author Viorel Popescu told the news source. "At what point does the canvas fall apart?"

The fact is that oil and gas drilling, if done improperly, poses a risk to both local wildlife and humans. It is important for us to better understand what that risk is so we can manage it and continue to reap the benefits of increased energy production. By working with environmental consultants, project stakeholders can ensure that they are operating as safely as possible, and minimize the risk of legal liabilities.