July 21, 2011
This editorial was originally posted here.
In the wake of last spring's BP spill and ongoing questions about the potential environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas and oil from shale rock, both the nation and the industry stand in need of reassuring that this work can be done safely and with sensitivity to the natural surroundings. The American public rightly insists on full access to the most reliable information available about the fracking method, and its potential for harming the nation's groundwater supplies, in particular.
As strong supporters of development of domestic oil and gas resources offshore and in proven areas across the nation, we believe such assurances are critical to the successful long-term exploitation of these valuable energy reserves. Public support for these enterprises will evaporate if protections are less than rigorous.
This week's announcement of a joint effort by the University of Texas at Austin and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that they are pursuing creation of a joint research center to study ways to explore oil and gas in challenging environments is a promising development ("UT and MIT hope to study oil's frontier," Page B1, Monday).
The scientific and research pedigrees of these two institutions of national stature offer us the strong assurance of a facility that can help create a gold standard for the extraction of oil and gas from difficult areas — one that would be carefully monitored and universally applied. The public -and the industry - should settle for nothing less.
The proposed name of the center defines its mission well: It is to be known as the Research Center for Environmental Protection at Hydrocarbon Energy Frontiers, or REEF.
The center, which would have facilities in both Austin and Cambridge, Mass., would be cross-disciplinary to the max. It would bring together experts in fields ranging from engineering and geosciences to law and public policy, according to Brett Clanton's report for the Chronicle.
This prospective step effectively addresses the reality that, like it or not, the nation will be relying on hydrocarbons for its energy needs for the foreseeable future. That prospect isn't pleasing to a lot of folks, acknowledges Chip Groat, director of UT-Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, but it faces up to the hard truth that those resources will necessarily come from ever more challenging environments.
It also faces another fact: Global energy demand will increase 40 percent by 2030 - just 19 years from now - as hundreds of millions more claim their places in the globe's ever-expanding middle class.
The next step will be to seek funding for the enterprise, including contributions from major players in the oil and gas industry. We assume that such donations will be made with arm's-length legal provisions to prevent donors from influencing research outcomes.
The prospect of a powerhouse research and policy center to deal with the complex problems of extracting oil and gas under increasingly difficult circumstances is most welcome. We encourage its development in no uncertain terms. It can be a national asset of the first rank.