February 10, 2010

University Creates Hydrofracking Committee

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The University announced yesterday evening that they have established an ad-hoc advisory committee to examine the issue of hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale region of land.

The “Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Leasing of Land for Exploration and Drilling for Natural Gas in the Marcellus Shale”–– which is comprised of six faculty members, four staff and one graduate student that have expertise in relevant and related academic fields –– will have until the end of the semester to develop a set of guidelines that will advise President Skorton on how to approach the decision of whether to lease university-owned land for natural gas drilling.

Currently, the University owns the rights for approximately 11,000 acres of shale formation in Tompkins County, in addition to 420,000 acres of potentially gas-rich land across the United States. The Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches from Ohio through southern New York, could contain anywhere from 168 to 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The recent interest in the Marcellus shale has sprung from new technological advancements in gas extraction capabilities. The discovery of methods like horizontal drilling and hydrofracking has made drilling in the shale region less costly and more feasible for gas companies. Yet there are still doubts about the negative environmental, social and economic effects that may result from the drilling method, which has prompted the University to form the advisory committee as well as place a moratorium on the leasing of land for drilling.

According to the University’s official statement, the group “is being formed in partial response to the Faculty Senate’s resolution calling for the formation of an advisory group to advise the executive administration on future decisions regarding the leasing of Cornell lands for horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing.” The resolution was passed on December 9 last year.

Provost Kent Fuchs and Dean of Faculty William Fry selected the participants from a list of potential candidates that the Faculty Senate committee provided. The advisory committee’s chairs, Prof. Susan Riha, earth and atmospheric science, and Prof. Yves Parlange, biological and environmental engineering, are both experts in water –– a central aspect of the issue, as critics of hydrofracking have argued that the drilling technique will release deadly toxins into the water supply.

Committee members that were reached for this article declined to comment on the group’s plans, since many were asked as recently as a few days ago about whether they wanted to participate, and have yet to discuss the matter with each other.

Fuchs said that he anticipates that the committee will meet at least two or three times over the next four weeks.

Until the group has completed its review and federal and state guidelines are in place regarding the safety of hydrofracking, Fuchs said that the University would maintain the moratorium.

Correction appended Feb. 11: The article incorrectly stated that Provost Kent Fuchs anticipates the committee to meet at least two or three times over the next four months. In fact, he anticipates it to meet a few times over the next four weeks. The Sun regrets this error.

Original Author: Ben Gitlin