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Research from multiple disciplines informs on hydraulic fracturing
April 22, 2014Tweet
A recent two-day conference provided a forum for clarifying what is currently known about the impacts of the hydraulic fracturing industry on local communities. The research-focused “Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing for Creating Sustainable Communities” conference also aimed to develop interdisciplinary research agendas that address pressing questions that remain.
Sponsored by SUNY Conversations in the Disciplines and Binghamton University’s Sustainable Communities Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence (TAE), the conference provided an opportunity to better understand the impacts, both positive and negative, of hydraulic fracturing so communities have the knowledge and tools necessary to make decisions.
“We’re bringing people together who might not come together normally to talk about an issue,” said Pam Mischen, associate professor of public administration and chair of the Sustainable Communities TAE. “This usually happens within a discipline, but we’re having more of a conversation between the disciplines with people from multiple disciplines here to address this local issue.”
Hydraulic fracturing is quite relevant for this region, Mischen told conference participants, who came from California, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin, New York and Canada. “New York state has a moratorium on drilling, but we anticipate that could change,” said Mischen. “We hope to learn from all of you about what are the issues? What do local communities need to do to prepare and what are the unanswered questions about the impact this is having on communities?”
Joe Graney, associate professor of geography at Binghamton University, and William Kappel, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey, were the first presenters, providing a hydrogeological perspective of the Marcellus Shale in the Northeastern U.S.
The Chesapeake Bay Basin Commission has local, state and federal concerns about the qualities and the health of watersheds, as does the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Graney said. Looking at areas where the hydraulic fracturing industry has had an impact has provided information on what to look for from man-made, as well as natural contamination. “New York is learning a lot from what others have experienced, including that the geography is a factor,” Graney said. “The rock and terrain are different, even the climate, or dealing with a forest ecosystem versus a grassland. We’re learning a lot about that. There are different ways to handle the waste, different ways to keep track of the actual drilling process itself. We’re learning as we go.”
Kappel spoke about the need for data mining across the country to establish some baselines. “It’s not just Marcellus, but it’s going on across the country and around the world. And it’s not just shale gas, it’s also shale oil,” he said. “It’s difficult to do these assessments without good data to draw from. It’s going to be a long process. We have some baseline data but there’s a need for much more that will develop over time.”
Other presentations addressed a broad range of topics, from understanding local, civic responses to hydraulic fracturing to social and community implications to community activism to the economic impact. Robert Holahan, assistant professor of environmental studies and political science at Binghamton, spoke about state-level policies and unconventional hydrocarbon production. Others spoke about what they have learned from gas leasing. Mischen and colleague Tom Sinclair, associate professor of public administration at Binghamton, presented on the question “Are small, local governments sustainable?”
The conference was so successful, with such interesting and diverse presentations, that organizers are moving ahead with an edited book, Mischen said.
“There’s also an agreement than another school will host and the conversation will continue and expand next year,” she said. “There were lots of people connecting with one another and identifying good research partners. This conference really did what it was supposed to do – spur interest.”
An added benefit: WSKG live-streamed the conference, which remains available online at http://www.wskg.org/info/implications-hydraulic-fracturing-creating-sustainable-communities.