Today, RFF is releasing a major update of our series of maps showing state shale gas regulation. The maps show 31 states' regulations of 27 different elements of the development process, and have been some of our most popular and talked-about research products since their launch in July.
Three big things have changed in this revision:
- The maps have been updated to show all changes in shale gas regulation since the last release. The regulatory landscape is changing so fast that even a few months later, there are a few important changes.
- The maps now indicate those states with little or no current shale gas development. Most such states were excluded from our study, but there are four - Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Vermont - that we included based on some evidence of or industry interest in future development. These states do have at least some relevant regulation, but three of the four currently have bans or moratoria. Generally, these four states do not regulate in as many areas as other states with active development. This probably reflects their status as relative newcomers to shale gas, rather than a preference for weak regulation
- The maps also now attempt to distinguish between those states that regulate an activity via the permit process, and those that don't regulate at all. At the time of the initial map release, we had not yet studied permitting requirements, so were unable to distinguish between these two. That was an important limitation. We now can make this distinction in most cases.
Important caveats remain. For one, it's always possible we've missed something. Shale gas regulation is very complex, and the amount of research needed to create these maps is very large. We're confident that the maps give an accurate picture of the state of American shale gas regulation. But we also know that they do not capture every detail, and that there are likely to be errors. This is still a draft release, and we welcome input and corrections. The final report will be released later this fall.
Regarding permitting, our new ability to distinguish between states that regulate via permit and states for which we have found no evidence of regulation is a double-edged sword. Before, states that rely heavily the permit process (possibly with quite stringent requirements) could justifiably complain that they were being somewhat unfairly grouped with states that have a much more laissez-faire approach. That's no longer an issue. But it's also true that states that do not regulate an area are clearly identified.
While we did find substantial evidence that the permit process is an important part of shale gas regulation in many states, there are many areas that appear completely unregulated by many states. This further illustrates the headline conclusion we reached based on our initial data set - the heterogeneity among states is very large.