February 27, 2014 at 4:40 am

Interdisciplinary Colloquium: Genealogies of Risk: The Problem of Knowledge in U.S. Health, Safety, and Environmental Law, April 11

Law Professor William Boyd of the University of Colorado at Boulder will conduct an interdisciplinary colloquium on “Genealogies of Risk:  The Problem of Knowledge in U.S. Health, Safety, and Environmental Law” for interested faculty and graduate students, as well as undergraduates recommended by faculty members, on Friday, April 11, from 3 to 5 p.m. in Ellis Hall 111 on the Athens Campus of Ohio University.

Dr. William Boyd

Dr. William Boyd

This event is organized by Ohio University’s Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics. If you would like to attend, and/or if you are a professor who would like to recommend an undergraduate, please send an e-mail to the Institute’s Director, Professor Alyssa Bernstein, at

This talk addresses the emergence and development of formal approaches to risk in U.S. health, safety, and environmental law during the 20th century. It demonstrates how an earlier approach founded on precaution and endangerment gave way starting in the 1970s to more formal, quantitative exercises directed at risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis. And it discusses why the earlier precautionary impulse was largely subsumed by formal approaches to risk, the normative implications of this development, and what it says about environmental law’s distinctive problem of knowledge in the face of an increasingly complex set of challenges.

Related Event

Ethics Lecture: Coming to Terms with the Shale Gas Boom, April 10

Boyd also will give a public lecture and discussion on “Coming to Terms with the Shale Gas Boom: Regulation, Social License to Operate, Struggles Over Local Control” on Thursday, April 10, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Scripps 111. This event is organized by Ohio University’s Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics.

Abstract: Substantial recent growth in unconventional oil and gas production in the United States has brought with it significant numbers of jobs, cheaper natural gas, renewed growth in certain sectors of U.S. manufacturing, the prospect of improved energy security, and an ongoing transition from coal to gas in the electric power sector that will reduce GHG emissions from electricity generation. But the rapid development of shale resources in the United States has also raised a number of important environmental concerns, including ground and surface water contamination; additional demand on diminishing groundwater supplies; disposal practices for flowback, produced water, and other associated drilling wastes; impacts on local and regional air quality; methane leakage, venting, and flaring; and increased traffic, noise, and other community impacts. Because of the “distributed” nature of unconventional oil and gas development and the substantial increase in wells in key basins, local land-use conflicts have also erupted in certain areas of the country, leading to restrictions and moratoria on drilling by State, county, and municipal governments and raising questions about the industry’s continued social license to operate in specific jurisdictions. Although this concept of social license to operate remains relatively undefined and even contested, many commentators agree that without improved public understanding and acceptance of shale development the industry will not be able to develop these resources to their full potential.  Additional regulations, even if merited, are unlikely to solve these challenges by themselves.  In Colorado, for example, despite having some of the country’s strongest oil and gas regulations that were the product of a robust multi-stakeholder process, communities up and down the Front Range are imposing moratoria and/or bans on oil and gas drilling.  The State’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has responded by suing the City of Longmont in two separate lawsuits on grounds that State law preempts local governments from imposing certain restrictions on oil and gas development.  Multiple initiatives regarding oil and gas development will be on the November 2014 ballot.  Colorado, moreover, is hardly alone. State and local governments in other shale basins throughout the country and the world are also struggling with the challenges of regulating this rapidly growing industry.  This talk will address these topics, with particular attention to evolving regulatory frameworks, social license to operate, and struggles over local control in the United States.

About Dr. William Boyd

Professor William Boyd earned a Ph.D. from the Energy & Resources Group at UC-Berkeley and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. He practiced energy, environmental and climate change law with the firm of Covington & Burling LLP in Washington DC before joining the University of Colorado Law School faculty in 2008. He teaches energy law & regulation, climate change law & policy, and environmental law. His current research focuses on legal and institutional design issues associated with emerging GHG compliance systems; integration of forests and land use into climate policy; electricity policy and clean energy innovation; regulatory issues regarding unconventional natural gas; risk assessment; and the role of science and technology in law. Currently he is serving as senior adviser and project lead for the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF),, a unique sub-national collaboration between 17 states and provinces from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, and the United States that is working to develop regulatory frameworks to reduce emissions from deforestation and land use.

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