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December 07, 2016
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No grandfathering

Nobody can claim, if it turns out that additional regulation is needed—or even outright bans—that “nobody could have guessed” that there would be a problem.

Thus, we consider it imperative that the DRBC write a section into the new regulations making it clear that no grandfathering will be allowed if regulations need to be changed in light of scientific studies. If that means that certain well pads have to be shut down entirely or re-engineered in the future, so be it.

Could it slow down drilling activity if companies knew that a well pad might have to be shut down in a few years? Maybe. But consider the alternative. This contingency would only arise in a situation in which scientific studies have proven that harms are being caused by certain activities.

Just how many cases of cancer should we consider an acceptable price to pay to protect drilling companies from the anxiety of a possible regulatory change in the future? How many families would it be acceptable to bankrupt with medical costs? How many homes should become worthless?

It may be too late to correct the mistake of issuing permitting rules before scientific studies are completed. But if the DRBC really believes that it can make everything right by changing those regulations as information becomes available, it will have no problem with inserting a “no grandfathering” clause.

To refuse to do so would make it clear that the agency considers our area, in the phrase introduced in Peter Comstock’s December 23, 2010 visioning column, a national “sacrifice zone,” an area whose well-being has to be written off for the good of the rest of the country. At that point we might as well stop pretending, disband the DRBC and put the basin directly under the control of the U.S. Department of Energy.