Democracy can be a really bad idea.
The majority of voters cannot be trusted to make the best decision when it comes to emotional or complex topics, such as minority rights or industrial regulation. Deeply ingrained prejudices, personal profit motives and intentionally misleading propaganda often sway voters more than reason or science.
That’s why referendums are a bad way to regulate the energy industry, particularly when it comes to hydraulic fracturing. But referendums have taken place in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and, soon, even in Texas.
Frustrated residents and anti-drilling environmentalists know how easy it is to convince a community to vote against a corporation. Predictably, democracy has devolved into demagoguery.
Supporters of fracturing bans use images of flames coming from a kitchen faucet and an earthquake-damaged home to rally support even though experts tied neither of those events to fracking. Defenders of the industry accuse their opponents of working for Russian President Vladimir Putin and trying to destroy the U.S. economy.
The truth is that any type of oil and gas drilling can contaminate the water table, and disposal wells are the likely cause of the earthquakes. And the opponents of fracturing are not much different from other Americans who want cheap, plentiful energy but don’t want anything to do with how it’s created or delivered.