The "fracking" debate in our state today is little different than the hog raising debate of the late 1990s. Both cases pitted business interests against individual concerns, with the whole thing simmering around lingering environmental questions that have outpaced regulators.

The ďfrackingĒ debate in our state today is little different than the hog raising debate of the late 1990s. Both cases pitted business interests against individual concerns, with the whole thing simmering around lingering environmental questions that have outpaced regulators.

At this point, the natural gas industry feels about like the hog industry circa 1997. In other words, the business is going, going, going, but more than a few area residents donít know where the ride ends.

Neither does anyone else.

Thatís no reason to throw up our hands and allow the natural gas industry, or any industry for that matter, to cruise along unmonitored. Nor is it a reason to halt commerce that our small, rural, poor state can always use.

There is a middle ground. We just have to look for it.

First, letís start with the arguments on each side.

Industry advocates note that natural gas is a plentiful fuel for which we arenít beholden to Middle East interests. With each day adding another dime to a gallon of liquid gold, thatís a worthwhile path.

Recipients of royalty checks are padding their income in a way previously not possible in the hard-scrabble hills of northern Faulkner County.

Finally, many people work on the gas rigs, and they spend money up and down the Fayetteville Shale corridor.

Opponents say that fracking can ruin groundwater and that byproducts pose a serious health hazard. Most anyone who follows the subject has seen the images of water taps lit on fire, as natural gas leaks into the groundwater.

People who live near the rigs donít particularly care for around-the-clock noise.

Local governments charged with maintaining roads have had a complaint or two as well; the trucks hauling in drilling equipment are much heavier than most local roads were built to accommodate. The industry has stepped forward to repair the roads, but repairs are falling way behind the industryís advances.

So, from those two staked-out positions, where can we agree to meet?

From the perspective of those in the industry or making money from the industry lined up against environmental stalwarts or those directly affected in a negative way, there isnít much agreement. This is a black/white issue ó only good or only bad.

But, like with most issues, step back a bit and one can begin to see a way for all the parties involved to get along a bit better, if not completely amicably.

Thatís where regulators must intervene.

Thing is, regulating an industry does not equate to curbing it. Regulating an industry means promoting best practices, encouraging responsible behavior and solving problems. Arenít those things industry leaders would want help with?

Arkansas has never been a strong regulatory state, no matter what some might say. If you want proof of that, get out on the Arkansas River and decide if you want to jump in.

Our mostly trust-industry mindset wonít change tomorrow. Yet, those in the natural gas industry should recognize that not only would they be protecting themselves by embracing regulatory scrutiny, they would show a willingness to be responsible corporate neighbors to a somewhat skeptical public.

With a robust regulatory program in place, the public could and should feel comfortably protected. From that position, a bit of trust could emerge, and both groups should be able to exist, and thrive, together.

We harbor no illusions that the natural gas industry wonít continue to elicit intense feelings on both sides of its metaphorical fence.

In a regulated environment, however, it could have the support it needs from the communities in which it operates.

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Rick Fahr is publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is rick.fahr@thecabin.net.