Thousands of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that has accumulated over millions of years can now be extracted using recently improved hydraulic fracturing technologies. Heated debates rage in town hall meetings and statehouses as some fight to allow fracking and others fight to ban it. The debate is often framed as a false choice between jobs and energy independence on one hand, and safety and environmental protection on the other hand.
We can resolve this conflict by agreeing to share the fracking wealth. We can recognize that the natural gas that has been accumulating since life began on earth is owned by all of humanity. We can afford to extract it safely and to share its bounty among the extraction companies, energy users, today’s citizens, and future citizens. The Alaska Permanent Fund and the Law of the Sea can guide us. The “Common heritage of mankind” can inspire us. Closing the Halliburton Loophole and removing other exemptions from federal environmental law can be the first steps in proceeding safely.
Here is the broad outline of a plan. Begin by requiring permits for extracting natural gas. These can be created by the State as “Carbon Certificates” each authorizing extraction of 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Designing these to have similar characteristics to Silver Certificates and backing them by the guarantee “in natural gas rights payable on demand” can help us regain some of the security and stability provided by a currency backed by a tangible and valuable asset.
The price of these certificates is set by a citizen-advised agency that works to balance the needs of the economy and the environment now and in the future. Certificates can be resold on the open market. The price could begin at zero for limited time to allow for a smooth transition.
Revenue from the original sale of these certificates goes into a trust fund administered by the State to create a Citizen’s Dividend. These funds are used to: 1) pay a direct dividend to current citizens, 2) offset State budget deficits, reduce taxes, fund environmental conservation, improve government services, and 3) accumulate for the benefit of future State residents. The allocation of funds to these various purposes is directed by a citizen-advised administrator.
Years ago as our nation was being formed Thomas Paine recognized that “Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.” No doubt Thomas Paine would be pleased to see us sharing the fracking wealth. It is only common sense.
When we decide to share the wealth fracking proceeds safely and the ancient bounty now released by modern technology is shared fairly among citizens for the long term. We all benefit.