Hydraulic fracturing is emerging as one of the primary methods of drilling for natural gas, yet is equally controversial in its potential to induce harm to humans and the environment. The uncertainties of the health risks associated with horizontal drilling using fluid pressure to break down shale formations for natural gas extraction has pushed countries worldwide to proactively regulate the use of this technology, such as a temporary ban in Germany in 2012 and a ban in France in 2011. Where such decisions are hedged on a variety of metrics ranging from social resistance to the technology to potential economic benefits to concerns for environmental health, it is difficult to predict how a country may move to regulate this technology without a formal tool to review all decision criteria and policy alternatives. For companies seeking to engage in hydraulic fracturing activities, understanding how a country will regulate its domestic drilling industry is a crucial element for the company to decide whether to invest the time, money, and manpower necessary to begin the complex shale drilling operations.
In an article in Environmental Sciences Europe, Igor Linkov of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Concord, MA and colleagues discuss the importance of predicting how countries move to regulate their domestic hydraulic fracturing industries in the midst of uncertain risks and benefits. Specifically, they present a formal model of multi-criteria decision analysis to demonstrate how companies and other organizations can assess various sources of qualitative and subjective information on hydraulic fracturing to estimate how a given country will ultimately decide to regulate such drilling processes within their borders.
Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) is a method for decision structuring that permits the use of both quantitative and qualitative data sources with high uncertainty or subjectivity. It improves upon uns
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