The smoking of e-cigarettes on airplanes has been banned by the FAA. Why? Because studies have not conclusively shown that “vaping” has no adverse impacts on human health.
And why is an article ostensibly about fracking and pipelines starting with this information? Because it is a rare example of the correct application of the Precautionary Principle.
The Precautionary Principle is a crucial concept in environmental law, and its basic precept is as simple as it is important: if there is an associated risk of harm that outweighs the likely benefit of an action, that action should not be taken. In other words, don’t do things for short-term benefit – such as squeezing gas out of spent wells through hydraulic fracturing – that may have long-term negative impacts; such as, say, causing earthquakes.
Ironically, fracking is a prime example of total disregard for precaution. Fracking pioneers apparently gave little consideration to the potential danger the process might pose, and now the US Geological Survey includes “induced” earthquakes in its mapping of seismic activity (See here and here). “Induced,” of course, means caused by human activity – specifically, fracking and the use of injection wells. Yes, the industry’s lack of foresight has actually created earthquake risks in places where earthquakes were previously all but unheard of.
“This is greed taken to the point of insanity.”