Environmental and Social Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing and Gas Drilling in the United States: An Integrative Workshop for the Evaluation of the State of Science and Policy: Workshop Report

Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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Environmental and Social Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing and Gas Drilling in the United States: An Integrative Workshop for the Evaluation of the State of Science and Policy: Workshop Report


WORKSHOP REPORT

INTRODUCTION

Advances in drilling technologies and production strategies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing now allow natural gas developers to access previously untouched geologic formations containing natural gas. These new technologies have significantly increased natural gas production by stimulating the flow of gas from low-permeability formations. The ability to access new reserves of natural gas in the United States has spurred hydraulic fracturing in western states like Colorado and Wyoming, throughout the Midwest in Texas and Oklahoma, across the East in Pennsylvania and New York, and as far south as Arkansas and Alabama.

Hydraulic fracturing has accelerated the production of natural gas, dramatically changing the energy landscape in the United States. Some estimates predict that the reserves of natural gas now available through hydraulic fracturing could supply energy to the United States for nearly a century. Some regions of the United States never before home to large-scale oil or gas production have become drilling epicenters, and production surges across the United States have contributed to historically low natural gas prices.

Some view the ability to access reserves of untapped natural gas in shale as a means to increase domestic energy independence, as a cleaner and economically viable alternative to coal, and as an opportunity to boost a struggling U.S. economy. Others question these claims by pointing to new research highlighting the environmental, economic, and social consequences that may accompany natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing. Many are concerned that hydraulic fracturing is not worth the environmental and other social costs, while others insist that if done properly, hydraulic fracturing can be a safe and sustainable way to provide clean energy.

In 2011, the National Science Foundation provided a grant to professors Avner Vengosh, Robert Jackson, and Erika Weinthal from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University (EAR, Division of Earth Sciences, Emerging topics #1137904 Environmental and Social Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing and Gas Drilling in the United States: An Integrative Science and Policy Workshop, 08/15/2011-08/14/2012) to conduct a workshop on the environmental and social implications of hydraulic fracturing and gas drilling in the United States. With additional support from the Nicholas School of Environment at Duke University, Duke's Center on Global Change, and the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum from Duke Law School, on January 9-10, 2012, Duke University brought together hydraulic fracturing experts from industry, science, academia, law, federal agencies, regulators, and the environmental sector, to address the scientific, economic, environmental, legal, and socio-economic effects of hydraulic fracturing or shale gas drilling in the United States.

Entitled: Environmental and Social Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing and Gas Drilling in the United States: An Integrative Workshop for the Evaluation of the State of Science and Policy, the purpose of the workshop was threefold: (1) to provide a forum for meaningful dialogue between experts on the various issues involving hydraulic fracturing; (2) to provide the public with an opportunity to learn more about hydraulic fracturing from recognized experts; and (3) to advance the academic, scientific, and legal discourse surrounding hydraulic fracturing by compiling a report summarizing the information shared and gained at the workshop.

Organizers accomplished these objectives by dividing the event into two days. To facilitate public involvement, the first part of the workshop was an open public session. Over 400 guests from across the United States attended the session. The public session was also streamed online where more than 2000 unique viewers observed the workshop live. (2) In addition, students posted real-time updates from a Twitter account on topics discussed during the workshop.

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