Dr. Anthony Ingraffea is a Professor of engineering at Cornell University and a member of the Cornell Fracture Group. As an expert in the field of fracture mechanics, he travels around the U.S. to inform citizens about unconventional hydraulic fracturing, the new practice that has quickly gained momentum in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Dr. Ingraffea approaches his audiences factually in an effort to help landowners make smarter decisions when confronted by natural gas companies. He works to dispel myths propagated by these companies that may otherwise misinform.
Dr. Ingraffea knows the technology well and is an affable, well-versed speaker. His main points are that:
- Unconventional shale gas development (the new “fracking”) is a relatively recent enterprise, fewer than 15 years old, and is the result of 4 new combined technologies that did not become available until the time period of 1996-2007.
- The new fracking technology is still being invented and much of the research studying the process and its effects has not yet been done.
- This new unconventional fracturing technology takes a lot longer than conventional fracturing and results in much greater amounts of air, light, and noise pollution.
- The new technology has a higher risk to the environment and human health and has higher fugitive emissions of methane, which is 20x more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. It’s possible that the total footprint of the natural gas drilling process is not better than coal or oil’s.
- The cumulative effect of purposeful ground and air releases that occur in the fracking process are still unknown.
- The industry does not have complete control of the technology; they rely on imperfect models.
- Natural gas cannot solve our energy crisis– it’s nowhere near production levels to drastically decrease the US’ current dependence on foreign oil.
Just from watching even one of Dr. Ingraffea’s community lectures, I learned a lot. What impresses me most about Dr. Ingraffea is that he’s aware that it is ultimately the landowner’s decision whether or not they want unconventional fracing done on their property and he tries to empower them in the process. He attempts to leave his opinion out of his lectures until it’s asked, and leave the “Is it worth it?” question largely up to the citizen. He believes that “forewarned is forearmed” and wants listeners to be aware of the risks involved, such as the probability that 1 in 20 wells will leak immediately (which is a great number when you consider the 400,000 wells drillers have planned). He really tries to encourage a thorough understanding in the average American of this new phenomenon that may otherwise seem confusing and unclear. In the process, I think he probably causes a lot of people (even initial skeptics) to reach much more environmentally sound conclusions!
To listen to Dr. Ingraffea yourself, here is his presentation “The Facts on Fracking”, Luzerne County, 2010: