To Frack or Not to Frack?

Professor Pat Parenteau presents “To Frack or Not to Frack” on Friday October 5, 12:45-2 in the Cornell Seminar Room. Professor Parenteau’s talk is a part of the Library’s Author Series which is a celebration of faculty scholarship.

There will be time for lively debate, and refreshments will be served.

Considering that a New York state judge just struck down a moratorium on fracking, Professor Parenteau’s lecture is very timely.

The development of hydro-fracturing technology—aka “fracking”—has led to a boom in the production of natural gas from ancient shale deposits in the Marcellus formation of the Northeast and other parts of the country. Compared to coal natural gas is a vastly preferable fuel source for electricity generation. For starters, it emits less than half the CO2 of coal during combustion and you don’t have to blow the tops off of mountains to get it. The gas industry touts fracking as the bridge to a clean energy future. But the issue is not so simple. Gas is basically methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than CO2. Fugitive emissions of methane are a major problem with fracking although there is much debate over the exact amount that escapes from the thousands of wells and pumps and pipelines. EPA has proposed rules to capture these emissions but it is not all clear when the rules will become law or even whether they will survive the presidential election. Methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon but scientists are concerned about its potential for accelerating climate change through positive feedback loops such as melting Arctic ice and permafrost. Proponents of solar and wind are concerned that the heavy investment in unconventional gas will impede the development of these even greener technologies. Then there are all those YouTube videos of people’s tapwater catching on fire; and the periodic blowouts, explosions and earthquakes linked to fracking. So, here we go with another energy and environment conundrum: Can fracking be done safely? Is it a bridge to the future or a bridge to nowhere? Come find out.