Unconventional Shale Drilling: What we know, What we don’t know, What we need to know to move forward


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By Ted Auch, PhD – Ohio Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

A Conference Retrospective

Communities, NGOs large and small, local governments, and even next door neighbors and/or families are dealing with long-term potential and realized environmental, economic, health*, and social equity damage from the activities of the gas industry in Ohio and beyond. These impacts were vetted at a conference (PDF) recently convened in Warren, OH by FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio, The FracTracker Alliance, and the Buckeye Forest Council. The title of the conference was “Unconventional Shale Drilling: What we know, What we don’t know, What we need to know to move forward.” The premise was to bring together a forum of diverse subject matter experts from academia, industry, government and private organizations to discuss and prioritize – using a knowledge-based approach – the various major issues relating to energy extraction that are facing local, state and national agencies and private citizens.

Conference attendees heard from a variety of researchers and community activist about their successes and failures, data needs, and expectations for how to leverage the conference gathering into a relatively cohesive and largely ego free movement. One highlight was a presentation and informal discussion with Deborah Rogers, former Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney investment banker, Dallas Federal Reserve Advisory Council member, current U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (USEITI) advisory committee member, and the woman behind the Energy Policy Forum. Ms. Rogers’ keynote presentation “Shale and Wall Street: Was the Decline in Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated?” focused on the regulatory and high finance parallels between the early aughts real-estate bubble and the current US shale bubble’s red queen predicament (what’s this?) forcing industry to acquire shale assets and repurchase shares in an illusory attempt to inflate their balance sheets and placate Wall Street expectations (while simultaneously overestimating reserves by 400-500% and experiencing 6.5% recovery efficiencies). Ms. Rogers pointed to the fact that the US is home to 181,000 oil and gas jobs Vs. 183,200 renewable energy jobs, however, they account for 45% and 15% of total energy generation capacity, respectively, with the latter “providing significantly more jobs per kilowatt capacity than oil and gas.”

Ms. Rogers was followed by University of Pittsburgh professor Dr. Bernard Goldstein, Biological Mimetics, Inc. President and CEO, Peter Nara, with public health and environmental concerns presentations, respectively. Julie Weatherington-Rice, an OSU adjunct faculty geologist, delivered an Ohio- focused talk on the legal and public policy implications of drilling in public water well fields. Dr. Weatherington-Rice gave an encore performance the following day focusing on shale gas waste, public water supplies, Ohio EPA’s September 2012 advisory regarding disposal of fracking waste in the Great Lake’s waste landfill facilities, and the dangers associated with technologically enhanced radioactive material (TENORM). Dr. Rice was followed by presentations on sustainable communities via “Local Self-Government and the Rights of Nature” by Tish O’Dell of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and Matt Nisenoff exploring the non-binary nature of Ohio advocacy. Mr. Nisenoff addressed the need for persistent organizing and “entering the political ring as candidates rather than voters.”

One of the most novel components of the conference was the presentation by Rumi Shammin, an environmental studies professor at Oberlin College who brought to the floor the concepts of ecosystem services and ecological economics or the monetization of ecological pattern and process [1]. These two lines of research are new to the hydraulic fracturing conversation and potentially integral to policy formulation, community outreach and academic-citizen scientist collaboration in Ohio.

Bowling Green State University professor Andrew Kear offered the final presentation titled “Unconventional Politics of Unconventional Gas: Environmental Reframing and Policy Change.” The presentation highlighted his PhD dissertation work focusing on unlikely bedfellows in the mountain west shale plays and the types of lessons he thought applied to Ohio’s shale fracturing discussion.

The conference closed with attendees coming together to identify the explicit knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns in Ohio relative to economic, environmental, social integrity, and health issues. The results of these break-out groups and discussion will be made available to the public in the next two weeks.

Next steps include crafting two to three white papers, writing a peer review publication, implementing effective collaboration strategies, planning future conferences, and developing policy recommendations. The ultimate goals are to promote fact-based transparency, best in class technologies, and create healthy and sustainable energy resources.

In the face of industry and regulatory inertia that continues to push back against transparency and local control, the conference underscored the need for more education, data, and far more research – all issues of special interest to the FracTracker Alliance – while bridging rifts and fortifying existing bonds.

Contact Information

For more information and notices as to resulting products, please contact:

  1. Leatra Harper, FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio,
  2. Ted Auch, PhD, The FracTracker Alliance, Ohio Program Coordinator
  3. Peter Nara, PhD, Biological Mimetics, Inc.
  4. Julie Weatherington-Rice, PhD, Adjunct Faculty The Ohio State University and Bennett & Williams
  5. Nathan Johnson, Buckeye Forest Council

* Keynote speaker Deborah Rogers cited health impact costs in the Barnett, Fayetteville, and Marcellus Shale of $73, 33.5, and 32 million per annum.

[1] Arrow et al., 1995; Costanza et al., 1997; Costanza et al., 2000; Costanza, Wainger, Folke, & Mäler, 1993; Daily et al., 1997; Krantzberg & Boer, 2006; Ruhl, 2006

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