Announcing the New Shale Institute at UB
by Buck Quigley - posted 6:14 pm, April 5, 2012
Did you know about the new Shale Resources and Society Institute at the University at Buffalo, SUNY? Of course you didn’t, because this new institute hasn’t been “rolled out” to the public, yet. It doesn’t even have a website up. According to the directors of this new institute, John P. Martin and Robert Jacobi, they recently decided on a logo that everyone can agree on. And they have office space at UB, although they still need to clear out some old furniture and get things spiffed up so the press can come and find out about the work this new institute will do centering on the Marcellus shale phenomenon.
But folks over in Jakarta, Indonesia were introduced to it back on February 6, 2012. That’s when Martin—speaking as director of the institute—gave a presentation to attendees of the Second United States-Indonesia Energy Investment Roundtable. His talk, entitled “Unconventional Resource Development and the Environment: The Curious Situation in New York,” includes a shale well life-cycle synopsis that breaks down the phases of a gas well. There are three: “Planning and Development” (land leasing, exploration geology/geophysics, site planning and permitting, pad development, logistics, and innovation #1: multi-well pads) “Drilling and Completion” (drilling, casing, cementing, well stimulation & completion, water/fluid management, post drilling restoration, and innovation 2 & 3: horizontal & frac), and “Operations and Site Reclamation” (pipelines and associated facilities, brine and other waste handling, gas production, service and restimulation, site reclamation and abandonment).
There’s a bit of history sprinkled throughout. There’s a snapshot of a sign marking “Project Gasbuggy” in Colorado—where, in 1967, a 29 kiloton nuclear explosive was detonated 4,227 feet below, in an attempt to access natural gas. There’s the concept of multiple well pads, pioneered in 1970 in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska—which allowed drillers to branch out in various directions from the same pad, creating multiple wellheads from the same rig. There’s the first horizontal shale well (West Virginia, 1986).
There are a couple pages about environmental issues: underground fluid and gas migration due to drilling practices (well design, casing, cementing), noise and air emissions, visual impact, and on-site spills. Also truck traffic (noise, emissions, road damage), water quality impacts (ecosystem and aquifer impacts associated with water withdrawals for hydrolic fracturing, water contamination due to wellbore failure, spills, disposal), naturally occurring radioactive materials, greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds. A note that the well stimulation process shouldn’t induce earthquakes, although the water disposal process might.
There’s a page about potential life cycle impacts. On the positive side: jobs (direct and indirect), income tax revenue (company, landowner, associated services, local and state tax collections) economic development (infrastructure, growth), and energy for society and all its ramifications (domestically-sourced, multi-purpose fuel). On the negative side: Surface (site disruption, spills, water management), subsurface (drinking water table, chemicals. Change in community character, growth? Cumulative negative impacts including air, water, and noise pollution. Climate change.
There’s a page entitled “Environmental Issues: New York Style!” A timeline of New York policy issues going back to July, 2008—when “a media report critical of hydraulic fracturing and NYS regulation” was released, prompting the governor to request a new environmental review of drilling practices. A BIG ISSUE, the attendees in Jakarta learned, is the New York City watershed.
Then we find a critical look at an invitation to a seminar called “Natural Gas on Trial.” The presenter points out it’s a “clever title” and asks if they are cutting in on your lawyer’s action. He points out the “liberal use of celebrity/environmental activist” (Blythe Danner). Points out there’s a picture of a tree featured on the invite.
Next, there’s a deconstruction of an ad for a screening of Gasland, again noting the “requisite use of celebrities.” This time, Debra Winger and Mark Ruffalo. There’s a photo of water from a sink in Saratoga Lake being lit on fire. Allegedly, the photo is from 1997. This is offered as proof that the phenomenon is not caused by fracking.
Then, a photo of a sign showing a man in a haz-mat suit floating in a lake, raising the question of contaminated drinking water. The ad directs people to Earthjustice.org/ny. Then a photo of an ad backed by the oil and gas industry showing a guy who is one of “the 9.2 million Americans whose jobs are supported” by the industry. Next, a page showing fracking protesters in Albany, followed by a quote from an article in Scientific American: “New York State is the key battleground that will determine the future of fracking in the US.”
Finally, a page entitled “Realizing a Risk: Is this Regulatory Failure?” Point one is that “3,500 Marcellus wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania—with less than 25 major impact events.”
Point two, a quote from Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies: “There is no such thing as a system that is totally risk free. No matter how we work to reduce the likelihood of failure, there is always some minimal probability that some time, some place, there will be failure.”
Point three, a quote from a piece published in the Journal of Consumer Research called “Safety First? The Role of Emotion in Safety Product Betrayal Aversion.” “The mere possibility of betrayal threatens the social order that enables us to trust the safety infrastructure of our society, causing intense visceral reactions and negative emotions toward the betrayer.”
You can see the powerpoint for yourself by clicking here.
I called Martin and asked him what the Shale Resources and Society Institute was all about. Here’s what he said: “UB is a big place. There are people who do press releases and stuff. So we’re actually crafting an announcement, so I’m holding off. There’s a lot of people sort of reading it, and tweaking it. But there’s going to be a press release. We’re going to have an official launch. We have a media plan and everything. So yeah, hold tight. This has been in the works for a while. We’re gonna have an announcement and a launch with the media and the whole nine yards.”
When is that coming up? “Well hopefully…this week. We’re like almost there. There was like a word change this morning. And I’m waiting for a new version to see if everybody agreed with it. It starts this week, so you’re calling at the exact right time. But you’re calling me—and I’ve learned this about large organizations—they have people who do this. Then, there’s a whole roll-out scheduled, and communication with the media. You’ve probably had conversations with the media people at the university, I suspect, more than once. You’re in Buffalo, right? ‘Cause I’m not sitting in Buffalo right now.”
So the institute is not up and running yet? “Well, there are balls up in the air that get juggled at the same time any time you’re trying to start a research center. It’s up and running, and the announcement will be like, literally…soon. There’s going to be a press release, and then the idea is to have interviews and all sorts of good stuff that goes from there. And UB will be managing that. Providing you with a press release and access and all that good stuff.”
So is it funded by SUNY? “It…there…yes. SUNY is involved in this. It’s at UB. So, obviously. But, that’s all, I have to say I’m gonna plead ignorance to the inner workings of a large organization like UB.”
I explained I was asking because he was identified as a director of the institute at the conference in Jakarta. “Yes. I am officially on the payroll of the institute.”
So how does that work? Is the institute paying you, or is SUNY paying you? “Well…academic institutions are big. You say SUNY. State University of New York at Buffalo. But Buffalo is made up of a multitude of entities within it that make up that university. So it’s never quite that easy to say. I’m not a tenure-track SUNY state employee, if that’s what you’re getting at, no. The institute is what exists, and that’s who pays me, but the institute is a line-item in a budget, basically. It’s a little more complicated than that when you get into it. But I am not an employee of the state, if that’s what you’re getting at, no.”
After calling over to UB’s media relations office asking for comment on the institute that nobody is supposed to know about—a move that indicated to them that the cat was about to come hissing and scratching its way out of the bag—I received this email from UB spokesperson John DellaContrada:
Per your request, here is information about this new institute. I understand you’ve already spoken to the institute’s director, John Martin.
Shale Resources and Society Institute to Analyze Shale’s Potential as an Energy Resource
New institute will provide policymakers and other stakeholders with research-based information on the development of shale
BUFFALO, N.Y. — A new Shale Resources and Society Institute based in the University at Buffalo Department of Geology will serve as a resource to help the public, policymakers and other stakeholders understand shale’s potential as an energy resource.
The goal of the institute is to provide accurate, research-based information on the development of shale and other unconventional resources, said John P. Martin, the institute’s director.
Specifically, the institute will conduct and disseminate peer-reviewed research that can help guide policymakers on issues relating to hydraulic fracturing and the development of energy resources. The institute will also educate students and provide the public with accurate information.
The institute’s work will draw on the expertise and perspectives of external research partners and UB faculty members in disciplines ranging from engineering to law and the social sciences. Activities will focus on four areas relating to shale development: fractures, fluids and migration; groundwater and surface environmental impacts; societal impacts; and policy and regulation.
“We’re really trying to provide fact-based, objective information,” Martin said. “We’re guided by science.”
“Many people in New York State have a strong opinion on this issue,” said Robert Jacobi, the center’s co-director and a longtime UB professor of geology. “We want to become a valuable community resource where anyone can come and read about current research, outreach and education, and have a feeling that they can trust these data.”
Martin said the institute plans to seek funding from sources including industry and individuals, as well as agencies that support scientific research relating to energy. Future plans include establishing a management committee for the institute that includes the voices of environmental organizations and other stakeholders.
In addition to serving as director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute, Martin is the founder and principal consultant of JPMartin Energy Strategy LLC, which provides strategic planning, resource evaluation and other services to the energy industry, academic institutions and governments.
Prior to forming the consultancy in 2011, Martin spent 17 years working on energy research and policy issues at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and developed a series of projects targeting oil and gas resources, renewable energy development and environmental mitigation. He holds a PhD in Urban and Environmental Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Jacobi, a field and lab geoscientist, has extensive experience in academia and industry. A member of UB’s faculty since 1980, he has over 30 years of experience teaching the structure, tectonics and evolution of North America, marine geology and geophysics, sedimentology and stratigraphy.
His present research focus includes identifying, understanding and predicting the trends of faults, fractures and folds in black shales. In addition to his work at UB, Jacobi is senior geology advisor for EQT Production, a Pittsburgh-based energy company. He recently consulted for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation concerning hydraulic fracturing, with respect to faults and potential seismic activity. He holds a PhD in geology from Columbia University.
So, “future plans include establishing a management committee for the institute that includes the voices of environmental organizations and other stakeholders.” But for now, the Shale Resources and Society Institute, with offices on the UB campus, will be funded the way the SUNY Fredonia Shale Research Institute is funded—by entities like Chief Oil and Gas LLC, Chesapeake Energy, Seneca Resources, EQT, ThermoScientific, and Shell.