October 4, 2011

Times’ Urbina Speaks About Covering Fracking

Print More

Ian Urbina, an investigative reporter for  The New York Times, spoke Tuesday about reporting on hydraulic fracturing and answered questions about the difficulty of tackling the controversial issue.

Urbina has published a series of articles and documents regarding onshore drilling for natural gas in the United States. The lecture answered questions about how the series originated, what its goals were and what challenges Urbina faced in his reporting.

The BP oil spill in 2010 motivated Urbina to investigate the effects of onshore drilling, including hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — is the practice of injecting chemicals deep underneath the ground at high pressures to break apart rocks and release natural gas.

The goals of the series are to capture different angles to the story and  go behind current assumptions of   natural gas drilling, Urbina said.

One of the goals of the series was “providing three-dimensional platforms instead of producing two-dimensional stories,” he said.

“The real struggle from the journalistic point of view is give a 3-D view,” he said.

The presentation, titled “Investigating the Natural Gas Drilling Boom,” was part of the Daniel W. Kops Freedom of the Press Lecture series sponsored by the American Studies Program at Cornell University.

Alicia Wittink ’97, who attended the lecture, said she believes that the issue of hydrofracking is much more complex than it is made out to be.

“I was very impressed with the way Ian was able to balance his answers,” she said. “Someone in the audience asked a question whether Ian could boil it down to what the biggest issue was in drilling for natural gas, and he said that … you can’t summarize, in a sense that it is much more complex than that. I thought that just summed up this whole issue.”

The presentation by Urbina came just one day after a presentation by Prof. Richard Allmendinger ’75, earth and atmospheric sciences, and a round-table discussion led by Prof. Charles Greene, earth and atmospheric sciences, that both dealt with energy issues.

Greene’s presentation — titled “Our Addiction to Fossil Fuels” — focused on the increasing energy needs of a growing human population. The talk answered questions such as why companies are looking at unconventional fossil fuels as possible sources of energy, what challenges humans face in the coming decades, and how it is possible to provide for all the people on the planet while having a minimum impact on the environment.

The fossil fuels talk was followed by a round-table discussion focusing on the pros and cons of hydrofracking in the Marcellus shale — which is found in abundance in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The discussion sought to address questions like where Ithaca and Tompkins County get most of their electricity, what energy options — short- and long-term — the county has, what the greatest risks of hydraulic fracturing are, and how these risks can be reduced.

On the issue of hydraulic fracturing, Greene said he believes that though it is wrong, it might still happen, as New York State lifted its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in July.

“I wish we did not have to do it, but I think New York is going to do it. All I hope for is that they put the proper regulations in place and have the people to enforce them,” he said.

Greene praised Cornell’s dedication to reduce climate change through its Climate Action Plan, which aims to make Cornell carbon neutral by 2050. But Greene said he feels that the plan is not ambitious enough.

“Cornell’s climate plan is stronger than most, but we need to be more ambitious,” he said. “We need to aim to be carbon neutral by 2030, not 2050.”

Maciej Lukawski grad, who attended the event, said he was impressed by the talk.

“This talk really opens eyes to how important the issue of climate change is to us and future generations. I would like each policy-maker to come and listen to this talk before they get to Washington,” Lukawski said.

However, the event emphasized that getting rid of fossil fuels would take a long time.

“Any carbon neutral plan is exceedingly difficult to actually carry out, and that is because most people have no idea how much we depend on fossil fuels,” Allmendinger said.

Original Author: Utsav Rai