Cornell professor addresses Pennsylvania fracking issue

Brett Swan, Contributing writer

Time is of the essence when it comes to addressing environmental and energy concerns.

“We no longer have 50 or 100 years [to address the issues of climate change]” Ingraffea said. According to him, the next 20 years will be vital.
In front of a packed Walker Recital Hall, Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D., addressed both regional and global concerns emanating from the development of shale natural gas and oil.

The presentation, titled “The Science of Shale Gas and Oil: The Latest Evidence of Leaky Wells, Methane Emissions, and the Implications of Energy Policy,” sought to inform community members and students about the myths and realities regarding natural gas development. These include waste production and disposal, possible water contamination and the impact of increasing levels of greenhouse gases.

Named one of Time Magazine’s “People Who Mattered” in 2011, Ingraffea is the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering Emeritus and Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow at Cornell University. A professor of engineering since 1977, Ingraffea is also the senior technical advisor for the Cornell Fracture Group.

The presentation was courtesy of the Charlene M. Tanner Speaker Series and the Organizational Leadership Graduate Program.

Ingraffea began his lecture with an explanation of the current state of unconventional shale drilling, more commonly known as fracking, within Pennsylvania. With the low price of natural gas, shale drilling is extensively inefficient, Ingraffea said. The profit from extracting is dwarfed by the fiscal costs.

The speaker was quick to point out that this does not mean we should be unconcerned, but that Pennsylvania will be subjected to an increase in drilling once the price of natural gas rises. Bradford, Green and Susquehanna counties will bear the brunt of this boom.

Ingraffea debunked the most prevalent myths surrounding unconventional drilling. A common misconception is that gas wells do not leak. The reality is that leaking gas wells are a “chronic, ubiquitous, and well understood problem,” Ingraffea said. This leaking can result in the contamination of underground drinking water or the emission of methane. Within Pennsylvania, there are nearly 8,000 wells, all with increasing potential to leak over time.

Myths centered around methane emissions were then addressed.

“There is no such thing as a clean fossil fuel,” Ingraffea said.

Methane, from a climate change perspective, has been mistakenly viewed as clean. It is actually the dirtiest form of fossil fuel.

Unconventional shale wells are of particular importance because they release both carbon dioxide and methane.
Because the climate does not quickly respond to emissions regulations, the combination of greenhouse gases is quickly driving the climate toward a danger zone. This danger zone.

This danger zone is where the temperature rises enough to result in catastrophic and radical climate alternations. We can reach the danger zone as early as 2042 is emission levels remain the same, according to a computer simulation presented by Ingraffea.

However, a to-do list was provided to attempt to stave off the effects of climate change. Drilling should be stopped where it has yet to happen and all emission regulations must be enforced to a greater degree.

Ingraffea advocated for individuals to position climate change as the single most important issue in terms of government policy. According to Ingraffea, we should have “science-based policy, not policy-based science.”

Throughout his speech, Ingraffea imparted the message that how we treat the environment is important and quite possibly irreversible.

“This is a one time experiment that we’re conducting on ourselves,” said Ingraffea. “There is no do over. We can’t reset the climate.”