In the marquee scene from the 2010 documentary Gasland, nominated earlier this year for an Academy Award, a man is shown warily holding a lighter underneath his running kitchen faucet. The flame quickly ignites the tapwater, briefly producing a fireball in the sink. Something appears to have gone wrong—and the culprit, the film inveighs, is the sinister local shale gas industry. Gasland’s incredulous depiction of flammable drinking water is but one expression of the anti-shale gas sentiment that is increasingly permeating American popular consciousness.
On a slow Friday afternoon, I settled in to read two lengthy reports—one from the West Virginia Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel on the Upper Big Branch/Massey Energy explosion that killed 29 miners, the other from the Urban Land Institute on the slow-motion crisis in U.S. infrastructure. On the surface, these reports seemed to have nothing in common. But as I plowed through them, I realized that they were addressing two sides of the same question—namely, what government does that nothing else can or will.