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Guest Blogger on Last Friday’s Marcellus Panel

April 26, 2011

Today we’re going to hear from Alex Wall, the new PRI Assistant to the Associate Director of Outreach. He was kind enough to attend last Friday’s panel discussion on the Marcellus Shale (read about it here), that featured Drs Richard Allmendinger, Tony Ingraffea, and Bruce Selleck. Thanks to all our speakers, but a special thanks to Drs Selleck and Allmendinger, who took time away from their daughters visiting home from college to speak to our audience Easter weekend.

From Alex:

As an employee of the Paleontological Research Institution who is not directly involved with our Marcellus Shale outreach programs, I found “The Science Beneath the Surface: Earth Systems Science of Drilling the Marcellus Shale” panel very elucidating.

It is nearly impossible to live in upstate New York and be completely unaware of the prospect of “hydro-fracking”, but sources for dispassionate science on the topic are less than abundant. After an introduction to the subject matter and the speakers by PRI’s Dr. Robert Ross, the panelists, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Dr. Richard Allmendinger, and Dr. Bruce Selleck each addressed the audience in turn for 15-20 minutes. While their stances were not hidden, and policy and opinions were discussed, the majority of the content was scientific.

It was particularly interesting to learn some of the backstory that has led to New York’s present decisions about drilling, including the reasons for our dependency on fossil fuels. The technologies needed to profitably extract gas from the Marcellus shale, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, are relatively recent innovations.

By and large, questions from the audience were informed and showed a genuine desire to understand better the geological and logistical backdrop to hydraulic fracturing in New York. The focus of discussion shifted to include legal issues as well, in which the panelists seemed as well-versed as in the geology. Questions ranged from the availability of well logs to the effect of the kimberlite dikes that punctuate the shale. I found it hopeful that people involved with such a contentious issue were interested in the facts of the matter, when it is so easy to be dismissive once you’ve formed an opinion.

Worldwide increases in the price of oil and gas, and the exhaustion of conventional sources of fossil fuels are making more recovery options economically viable in more places, causing more communities to be confronted with dilemmas similar to New York’s. Civil and balanced discourse of the kind I saw on Friday is essential for informed decision making. It is encouraging to see that at least some of the community is concerned with more than rhetoric which, I hope, will result in greater consensus and ultimately the best decision for the state.

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