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Constitutional Environmental Human Right to Water: An Economic Model of the Potential Negative Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Quantity and Quality in Pennsylvania


  • Christopher Jeffords

    (University of Connecticut)


The process of hydraulic fracturing (HF) for natural gas leads to two potential negative externalities: (1) a reduction in the quantity of existing drinking water, and (2) a reduction in the quality of existing drinking water. These two externalities can further conspire to lead to a broader problem: an inability to fulfill the human right to (clean or pure) water. Although the United States (US) Constitution does not grant individuals a human right to clean water, the Constitution of Pennsylvania does within Section 27. While US reliance on natural gas and the prevalence of HF as a method for procuring natural gas both increase, the two externalities may lead to actual human rights violations, especially in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. This paper develops an economic model of the two externalities to: (1) demonstrate how violations of both the quantity and quality of available drinking water can occur; and (2) offer a fiscal policy to address the violations (i.e., a Pigovian Tax) , where a single tax on natural gas production is capable of addressing both externalities. In keeping with the current case law interpretation of Section 27 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, a due standard of care negligence rule within a unilateral-care accident model is developed and compared to the Pigovian Tax. Depending on the nature of the market demand and supply curves for natural gas, the results indicate that the incidence of the Pigovian Tax is not fully carried by the producers while the due standard of care rule is imposed entirely on the producers (i.e., injurers). In either case, the number of producers is an important consideration for fulfillment of the human right to water.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Jeffords, 2012. "Constitutional Environmental Human Right to Water: An Economic Model of the Potential Negative Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Quantity and Quality in Pennsylvania," Economic Rights Working Papers 22, University of Connecticut, Human Rights Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:uct:ecriwp:22

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    Cited by:

    1. Loucao, Sebastian, 2014. "External Effects of Hydraulic Fracturing: Risks and Welfare Considerations for Water Supply in Germany," FCN Working Papers 4/2014, E.ON Energy Research Center, Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior (FCN), revised Aug 2015.

    More about this item


    Hydraulic Fracturing; Environmental Human Rights; Human Right to Water; Drinking Water; Drinking Water Contamination; Externalities; Pignovian Taxation; Negligence; Due Standard of Care;

    JEL classification:

    • K13 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Tort Law and Product Liability; Forensic Economics
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law
    • Q32 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Exhaustible Resources and Economic Development
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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