The workshop concluded with final thoughts offered by the planning committee and workshop participants. George Hornberger, planning committee chair, said that, despite uncertainties, it appears that there are substantial unconventional hydrocarbon reserves and a large potential for economic development. A common theme was the need for baseline data and ongoing data collection for monitoring environmental impacts. In addition, communication is important at all levels because public perceptions play a substantial role in what can be accomplished. Addressing impacts in ways that are broadly acceptable can be facilitated by communication and collaboration within and across university, government, and industry sectors. Finally, understanding the costs (e.g., environmental impacts) and benefits (e.g., economic gain) over the life cycle of shale gas development is critical for informing decisions.
Kate Baker agreed that scientists and engineers have difficulty communicating among themselves, and that it is even harder to talk to (and listen to) people outside the field. There are compelling needs for baseline data. Resources (money, people, time) are insufficient to measure everything, so some thought has to go into collecting the right measurements in the right places at the right time and with the right resolution and accuracy to address key issues or problems. Finally, the workshop discussions reminded her that all shales, ecosystems, communities, and political systems are different. However, some lessons learned will translate to other places and we as individuals should be mindful of sharing them across our different communities and jurisdictional boundaries.
Michael Hohn focused on the geology and engineering issues that opened the workshop. Although the community has learned a great deal over the past few decades, fundamental work remains to be done. Examples include better well placement, improved predictions of well performance, better characterization of the internal structure of shales, and accurate assessments of the resource at spatial scales ranging from an individual well to the entire nation. A better understanding of what is going on would help make the process more efficient, which would also reduce adverse impacts to the environment.
Susan Brantley said that experience has shown that if the public has a concern, scientists have to devote resources to it, even if they do not agree with the concern. The speed of shale gas development in Pennsylvania and some of the mistakes that were made may have led to pushback
elsewhere. For example, hydraulic fracturing is now illegal in France. Listening to what the public thinks, responding to their concerns, and making good environmental decisions is probably a good long-term strategy. She concluded by describing an effort (Shale Network)1 aimed at collecting water quality and water quantity data from university groups, federal and state government entities, and others in areas where natural gas is being extracted. The data are being made available online so they can be readily found and analyzed.
Hornberger invited comments from workshop participants, and William Kappel (U.S. Geological Survey [USGS]) described a research and monitoring strategy for managing unconventional hydrocarbon development in the Appalachian Basin. This integrated science plan is being developed by the USGS and other federal agencies. Following federal agency review, input will be sought from academia, industry, and state regulators to determine (1) whether an integrated approach will address some of the issues raised in the workshop and (2) whether data are available to start analyzing these issues. The objective is to gather data and place them in a usable format so that people can understand how they are likely to be affected by shale gas production.
The final remarks were made by Fred King (West Virginia University), who saw several sets of challenges and opportunities. First, despite public fears and extreme comments on both sides, it is up to the science and engineering community to work together and better educate the public. Increasing energy literacy will help the public understand the issues and make rational decisions. Social science and policy could be used to help people understand the regulations and to make those regulations more uniform across geographic areas. Another opportunity is filling gaps in knowledge through both basic research and applied research (e.g., best practices, best ways to exploit the resource). Finally, funding is a challenge because federal resources are insufficient for all the research or data collection that is needed, and a strong business case has to be made to convince industry to contribute research funding. Overall, he saw a tremendous opportunity for a partnership between industry, academia, policy makers, and the public to decide how to handle this natural resource in a way that benefits the region as a whole.