September 29, 2010

EPA Considers Three Cornell Profs For Positions on Hydrofracking Panel

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Cornell’s Prof. Robert W. Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, civil and environmental engineering, and Prof. Steven J. Schwager, biological statistics, made the Environmental Protection Agency’s short list of candidates for its panel on hydraulic fracturing — “hydrofracking” —  released Sept. 10. Howarth researches  biogeochemistry, natural resources and ecosystem biology. In April, he released a report on the natural gas industry’s carbon footprint, suggesting that it might be bigger than previously thought. Ingraffea investigates structural engineering, which deals with structures that support or resist heavy weight. Schwager extensively works with experiment design and ecological statistics.According to the EPA’s press release, the panel will “investigate the potential public health and environmental protection research issues that may be associated with hydraulic fracturing.” The panel, named the EPA Science Advisory Board Panel for the Review of Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan, will be comprised of a set of experts on technology and environmental safety chosen from the shortlist of 82 candidates.The professors all expect to hear about appointments from the EPA after the deadline for public comments on the nominees passes on Oct. 1.The candidates come from a variety of different backgrounds, having been nominated by different parties and bringing different sets of expertise to the shortlist.“Part of what this panel is going to do is suggest experiments that might be done to help evaluate the procedure” of hydrofracking, Schwager said.  Hydrofracking is the process by which gas companies inject a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into wells to ease natural gas to the surface.While Schwager has not done much research into hydrofracking in the past, his significant abilities in experimental design and investigation are important to assessing the safety of hydrofracking.“One of the skills they would like on the panel is someone who knows a lot about statistical design of experiments,” Schwager said, explaining what his role would be.  He described the job as that of “the impertinent questioner.” Ingraffea has done research about hydrofracking in the past.  While his current research is “sponsored by NASA,” he explained, much of his past work into the growth of cracks was sponsored by organizations including the Exxon Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the Gas Technology Institute.Howarth said he has worked with Ingraffea in the past, more recently since becoming “more interested in the Marcellus Shale,” he said.  The Marcellus Shale, a large rock formation on the east coast containing major natural gas deposits, is the source of much of the hydrofracking controversy in the Ithaca area.  “We decided to take a closer look,” said Howarth, who needed input from Ingraffea’s expertise in engineering.Ingraffea also said that he had “worked informally” with Howarth.  Ingraffea noted that he has assisted Howarth more recently with his current research “on the development of a life cycle analysis of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from the production and distribution of natural gas.”

Original Author: Maggie Henry