LEWISBURG - Bucknell University's Institute for Public Policy's symposium on the Marcellus Shale provided a forum for scientists, industry representatives, economic development specialists and government regulators to get together to discuss the wide ranging impacts natural gas development in the shale region can have on Pennsylvania.
"The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy is interested in providing a forum for discussion of timely issues related to public policy," said Abe Feuerstein, associate dean of faculty at the university's College of Arts and Sciences. "This symposium is an opportunity to explore this issue and understand it is not just from an environmental and scientific point of view, but also from a social, political and economic perspective."
The event kicked off Friday with the screening of the documentary "Haynesville" at the Campus Theatre. The film focused on the Haynesville Shale region of Louisiana and the lives of three people impacted by gas exploration in that region. Filmmaker Gregory Kallenberg was on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.
Friday's schedule also included a keynote address at the university by state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary John Quigley.
Saturday was devoted to a series of panel discussions regarding the geological, geographic and historical context of the shale and its social, economic and environmental impact on communities in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has a long track record of resource extraction, the impact of which remains with us today, said John Dawes, executive director for Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds.
Because of unregulated mining, acid mine drainage destroyed thousands of miles of Pennsylvania streams and rivers, many of which have not yet recovered, Dawes said.
"Acid mine drainage is still the number one water quality issue in Pennsylvania," Dawes said. Dawes said the history of the Marcellus Shale's impact on the environment has yet to be written.
University biology professor Carl Kirby, who has performed extensive research of the shale, said there is no simple answer to the question of whether drilling in the shale is safe.
"It is really complicated. It is not simple in any respect," Kirby said.
Kirby said many people are concerned with the hydrofracturing fluid - which he calls "slick water" - that must be pumped into the well to pulverize the shale and release the gas trapped in it
"I'm not as concerned with slick water than what comes back up," Kirby said. "I'd rather know what's coming back up than what's going down."
He also expressed concern about how gas exploration will impact the state's forests.
University student Molly Pritz discussed hydrofracturing and its potential impact on the environment. According to Pritz, it takes about 5 million gallons of water to fracture a gas well. Although only a small percentage of that water will return to the surface during the development of the well, it still creates a large amount of water that must be treated before it can be disposed of, she said.
Pritz said she collected and analyzed five frack water samples and found them to be high in sodium, calcium and chloride. Depending on the sample, the water was two to 13 times saltier than sea water, she said.
They also contained high concentrations of barium and strontium, she said.
Also speaking was Kathryn Z. Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a group comprised of more than 90 gas-related companies, including 40 gas-producing companies.
Klaber said her group is focusing on the long-term development of the shale play.
"We won't be here today and gone tomorrow," she said.
The Marcellus Shale is an opportunity to "change the nation's energy profile," she said. Because of the shale, in a few years, the nation will transition from a natural gas importer to a gas exporter, she said.
The shale's unique location near the northeast, where a significant amount of natural gas is consumed, makes it "one of the biggest games in town," Klaber said.
Klaber said the ability of gas drilling companies to drill multiple wells from a single well pad reduces the amount of land disturbance that would occur if only one well was drilled on a pad.