Panelists to discuss pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing natural gas drilling, on March 23, 2011.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- Environmental and economic aspects of the controversial hydraulic fracturing method of natural gas drilling -- often referred to as “hydrofracking” -- will be addressed by the head of a local geosciences consulting firm, the recently retired manager of a New York State energy program on subsurface resources, a Vassar geography professor, and the head of a clean water advocacy organization in an upcoming panel discussion. Sponsored by Vassar College’s Campus Investor Responsibility Committee, and free and open to the public, “The Question of Hydrofracking” will be held on Wednesday, March 23, at 5:30pm in Rockefeller Hall, room 300.

Debate in New York State about hydraulic fracturing has recently increased due to increased proposals for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a black shale formation extending deep underground from Ohio and West Virginia northeast into Pennsylvania and portions of New York’s Delaware River Valley and Hudson River Valley.

Hydraulic fracturing pumps fluids -- commonly made up of water and chemical additives -- into a geologic formation at high pressure. When the pressure exceeds the rock strength, the fluids open or enlarge fractures that can extend several hundred feet away from the well. After the fractures are created, a propping agent (a "proppant") such as sand is pumped down a drilling well under high pressure to create fractures in the gas-bearing rock. The propping material holds the fractures open, allowing more gas to flow into the well than would naturally. After fracturing is completed the injected fluids must be disposed of, because the internal pressure of the geologic formation causes the fluids to rise toward the surface.

While the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSRDA) reports that hydraulic fracturing has been used for drilling in New York since at least the 1950s, questions remain about environmental and community impacts, with most concerns related to water use and management and the composition of the fluids used for fracturing the shale.

Although the Marcellus Shale is exposed at the ground surface in some locations, in others it is as deep as 7,000 feet or more below the ground surface. NYSERDA reports that proposed drilling would focus on areas where the shale formation is deeper than 2,000 feet.

About the Speakers

John Conrad is president and senior hydrogeologist of Conrad Geoscience Corporation in Poughkeepsie, NY. Since 1989, Conrad has completed and supervised hundreds of environmental projects related to water resource protection in New York, including subsurface mapping of contaminants in soil, bedrock and groundwater; and assessment and remediation of hazardous waste sites, landfills, brownfields and petroleum spill sites.  His clients include federal, state and local government agencies; private and public institutions; commercial and industrial businesses; law firms; and lending institutions.

Conrad Geoscience provides environmental consulting and regulatory compliance services to the energy industry, including methane migration studies, groundwater monitoring, and brine disposal.  The consulting firm is also under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy and NYSERDA to evaluate the potential for large-scale geologic storage of greenhouse gases captured from power plants and other industrial sources in the northeastern U.S.  Conrad began his career as a petroleum geologist, evaluating oil and gas reservoirs in the Illinois, Michigan and Appalachian Basins; and entered the environmental industry as a geologist in the chemical manufacturing industry.

Paul Gallay became executive director of Riverkeeper in July 2010, heading a more than 40-year-old advocacy organization focused on the Hudson River and its tributaries, and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. Earlier Gallay served 13 years with New York State’s Attorney General and Department of Environmental Conservation. Often working with local activists, he helped shut down unrepentant polluters; expand programs to reduce contamination in the Hudson; force sewage plants, landfills and other public facilities to cut pollution and improve management practices; protect Long Island’s drinking water aquifers; and transform a former Con Ed brownfield into a major regional paper recycling plant. After leaving government, Gallay served as Westchester Land Trust’s (WLT) executive director (2000-2008), where he and colleagues helped create the Westchester Open Space Alliance, whose more than two-dozen grass-roots member organizations successfully lobbied for over $45 million in parkland and preserve funding. At the same time, WLT helped protect thousands of acres of sensitive land and successfully pushed for sounder, more sustainable development practices. Before joining Riverkeeper, Gallay served nearly two years as president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

In 1993 John Martin joined the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to manage its Subsurface Resources Program, and he became NYSERDA's point person on a series of technical studies looking at all aspects of hydraulic fracturing and multiwell pad development prior to his retirement in December 2010. At NYSERDA he developed a portfolio of more than 100 projects with total funding in excess of $50 million. He co-directed the New York Governor's Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) Working Group, an interagency committee organized in 2007 to address CCS issues. Other state and national panels Martin has served on  include the U.S. Department of Energy’s Unconventional Resources Technical Advisory Committee, on the development and implementation of programs related to onshore unconventional natural gas and other petroleum resources.

In addition, Martin completed the initial research on the natural gas potential of New York's Utica Shale that helped stimulate significant industry investment in this resource. He regularly lectures and publishes on such diverse topics as the development of shale gas reservoirs, carbon capture and sequestration, compressed-air energy storage, renewable energy resource development, and research policy.

Joseph Nevins received his Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Nevins studies territorial and social boundaries, violence, inequality, environmental change, and human rights. In doing so he has conducted research in East Timor, Mexico, and the United States-Mexico border region. His books include Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2010); Taking Southeast Asia to Market: Commodities, Nature, and People in the Neoliberal Age (co-edited with Nancy Peluso, Cornell University Press, 2008); and Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books, 2008). Among his Vassar courses are The Political Geography of Human Rights; Population, Resources, and Sustainable Development; Geographies of Mass Violence; and Lines, Fences, and Walls: The Partitioning of the Global Landscape.

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Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, March 16, 2011