Earth Day Texas – 1st Symposium on Responsible Shale Energy Extraction

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I had the wonderful opportunity last week to skip what was hopefully Nova Scotia’s last snow day before summer and travel to Dallas, Texas; to take part in the inaugural Responsible Shale Energy Extraction Conference as a part of Earth Day Texas. The goal of this conference was to bring together scientists, advocates, citizens and technology developers from academia, industry, government and the non-profit sector to collaborate and learn more about current practices as we move forward to improve the way energy resources are extracted.

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Round table discussion about environmental contamination related to shale gas extraction

Dr. Hildenbrand got the symposium off to a great start by running through the basics of unconventional oil and gas extraction which made for a good foundation for the other talks.

US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, gave an address and I was happy to hear him discuss the importance of national laboratories and innovation. We also heard from the Environmental Defense Fund about responsible policy, Doctors Anne Epstein and Paula Stigler-Granados described the health impacts associated with shale exploration including the social implications. There were discussions about water innovation and bringing together economics and the environment when it comes to shale extraction.  A roundtable format was also used to explore contamination events associated with unconventional oil and gas activities. Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, who has been an advocate for using natural gas as a bridge towards renewable energy talked about what happens we get to the end of the “bridge” and how to prepare. We heard about the potential for increased seismicity and how difficult it is to determine the makeup of chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas activities. Dr. Ines Santos described how groundwater microbiome change as a result of shale exploration. It was especially interesting to learn about the portable GC system developed at University of North Texas.

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One of the massive buildings at the Fair Park and home to our poster!

One big take away for me was how difficult it is to find a middle ground in this space. Dr. Scott Tinker went so far as to call it the “Radical Middle Ground” which I have found to be very fitting. As difficult as this middle ground is it find, it was heartening to hear about one example of industry, scientists and citizen groups coming together. I learned about Apache’s approach to developing the shale resources near Balmorhea State Park. They have invested a great deal in consultations with scientists and citizen groups to ensure that their impact is as minimal as possible.

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One of the most interesting things I got to see: a portable mass spectrometer unit connected to a hybrid car-analyzing gas at 70mph! Super interesting talking to Dr. Verbeck about this project.

As I mentioned in my presentation, this conference really highlighted to me the importance of good quality data to bring together all stakeholders in oil and gas development.

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I was happily kidnapped to experience Texas’ famous BBQ fare at The Truck Stop.  Thanks so much to CLEAR for showing me Texan hospitality. 

I was grateful to speak on the same stage as so many accomplished and knowledgeable scientists, professionals and citizens. Thank you to everyone who attended and helped me better understand a complex issue. I would like to send a big thank you to Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand, Dr. Kevin Schug and Danielle Schug for organizing such an interesting conference and bringing together a variety of backgrounds and perspectives to this incredibly relevant topic. Thank you to the Mitchell Foundation for supporting CLEAR lab who were incredible hosts, especially Dr. Santos, Dr. Carlton and Manny.

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Farewell Texas (and the beautiful patterns), until next year!