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Most speakers at April 22 fracking event express environmental concerns

Most people attending an event on hydraulic fracturing April 22 in Call Auditorium opposed the process, also known as "fracking," which is used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

The event was organized by the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Leasing of Land for Exploration and Drilling for Natural Gas in the Marcellus Shale, a committee of Cornell professors, staff and students charged with recommending guidelines to be used by the president in making decisions on issues related to the leasing of Cornell land for drilling in Marcellus Shale.

The primary environmental concerns voiced were the potential contamination of aquifers and drinking water, degradation of wetlands and increased air and soil pollution. Questions were also raised about the ethics of fracking on Cornell-owned land.

"I oppose drilling in the Marcellus Shale," said Cyrus Umrigar, adjunct professor of physics. "I understand that gas is a valuable resource, but clean air, clean water and the beautiful natural environment that we enjoy in the Finger Lakes are far more valuable."

Robert Oswald, professor of pharmacology, concurred. "I recently visited Dimock, Pa., to get an idea of what it's like to be in an area affected by drilling," he said. "It's a beautiful area with rolling hills and a lot of small lakes … but one of the things I was struck by most was the air pollution, just the smell in the area, and also the degradation of the land, the scarring of the landscape."

Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, looked at the global implications of fracking. "With regard to Cornell's pledge to become carbon neutral, we need to think very carefully about how drilling our lands would affect that," he said. "If you compare net greenhouse gas consequences of using natural gas with our society's use of oil during the 20th century, natural gas will cause at least 50 percent greater global warming than has the oil."

Lawrence Cathles, professor in earth and atmospheric sciences, argued that society's need for natural resources cannot be ignored. "We need energy for our standard of living," he said, "and I think to take the stance that we're not going to be involved in trying to tap a resource of this size, I think would very badly damage Cornell's reputation as an academic learning institution … that is designed to solve problems and not just react against them."

Susan Riha, who leads the ad hoc advisory committee, stressed the preliminary nature of the meeting. "Cornell currently is not leasing and has no plans to lease land for drilling for gas in the Marcellus (Shale)," she said.

Erik Johnson '12 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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