Today we are kicking off a new series on the Green Tie, featuring the ‘Emerging Leaders’ within our membership. Dania Nasser is a student member of NAEM, pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Management at Yale University.
In the wake of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to consider lifting the ban on hydrofracking, it seems like the term and the debate have gone mainstream.
As you probably know, hydrofracking (hydraulic fracturing) is a method by which natural gas stored in layers of rock is extracted through the use of chemicals, water and pressure to break through the rock and recover natural gas.
While several states allow the practice, it has become a lightning rod issue for many communities. There is serious concern that disturbing the layers of rock and sediment to recover natural gas can result in drinking water contamination. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the general impacts of hydrofracking and looking to release a Federal report and possible guidelines in 2012.
Few things worth doing, however, pose zero risk. Risk should be monitored and tracked closely, but not automatically used as criteria for eliminating viable options.
I was recently discussing the issue of risk surrounding hydrofracking with a neurosurgeon friend, and it occurred to me the extent to which the practice might be compared with brain surgery. Take for example, a brain surgeon undertaking a patient suffering from an aneurysm. The source of the aneurysm is not always clear, and sometimes exploration for the source of the bleeding can cause more harm than good—but this is a major risk that doctors take. Doctors are able to take this risk because of all the risk mitigation that doctors take, such as years of practice and study, the latest equipment and time-tested procedures.
Hydrofracking poses a similar set of risks and obstacles. Just as with surgery, the risks must continue to be vetted and addressed. The same process is necessary to ensure proper practices and procedures set in place for hydrofracking.
If hydrofracking is increasingly seen as a viable option for recovering additional domestic energy, the concerns that have caused the controversy surrounding hydrofracking must be addressed. Areas that must be further addressed to ease anxiety surrounding hydrofracking include readying infrastructure and monitoring technologies, developing best practices, as well as working to carefully plan and manage the impacts of hydrofracking.
How do you weigh the risks of practices such as hydrofracking? How do you address the concerns internally as well as externally?