|Joshua Goldwitz (standing, left) speaks during the Hydro-fracking discussion held at RIT's Innovation Center on December 7, 2011.
On Wednesday, December 7, members of the RIT community converged on the Center for Student Innovation to attend a panel discussion on hydro-fracking. The panel featured professors and professionals from RIT and other organizations, and led the audience through the issues surrounding this controversial drilling technique. The event was led by Enid Cardinal — RIT’s newly minted Senior Sustainability Advisor— as part of her effort to raise awareness on issues relating to sustainability through on-campus forums.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “hydro-fracking,” is a drilling technique that allows for greater flow of fossil fuel resources by drilling down to a layer of rock known as the “Marcellus Shale.” Then, a mix of water, sand and other chemicals is injected into the well at high pressures to create fractures in the rock layer that allow greater flow of natural resources during the extraction process. This method was assessed for its environmental, economic, social and legal implications for communities in New York that might be affected by this practice, should the state government approve it.
RIT professor Josh Goldowitz, a certified ground water professional and expert in geology and hydrology, kicked off the event with a presentation on what hydro-fracking is; how and why drillers employ the technique and the state of the hydro-fracking industry today. During his interactive presentation, Goldowitz noted two startling points: the United States has, or will so, reached its peak for oil production, and about once every 10 years there is a major oil spill. This introduced the reality of a declining energy source for the audience, and helped explain protestors’ worry.
Following his presentation was RIT professor Gretchen Wainwright, professional engineer and authority on wastewater management, who discussed the proposed regulations by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to hold drillers to stringent standards regarding wastewater management at drilling sites. She enumerated a system of regulations that are strict in managing storm water and wastewater disposal. Wainwright’s talk seemed to suggest that enforcement is the next level that has to be proficiently executed to ensure best practices by drilling companies.
RIT professor Nancy Bercerra-Cordoba’s talk focused on the agency of local communities to either promote or inhibit hydro-fracking through defining land use and zoning regulations and ordinances. She pointed out that some communities have altogether banned hydro-fracking — Tusten, NY just recently banned the practice on December 4.
Former RIT adjunct Libby Ford concluded the talk by fleshing out the complicated matrix of regulators: NYSDEC will head all regulating agencies, with other departments under its leadership like the Department of Health, Department of Transportation and the Public Service Commission.The forum meshed nicely with Cardinal’s overall mission to ultimately “put RIT on the map, within higher education, for sustainability,” as she noted in a talk just before the discussion. Bringing the issues and experts to the RIT community are part of presenting what she termed sustainability’s “Triple Bottom Line.”
“You’re looking at economics, society and environment, and how our decisions impact all of those things,” said Cardinal. Her project to help move RIT toward greater sustainability also stakes an important role for students: “At RIT, we’re trying to develop globally-minded citizens, and in order to do that we need to engage them in current affairs and current issues.” Added Cardinal, “We need the ideas and the innovation that students can bring to come up with new ways of doing things.”
Prior to joining RIT in July, Cardinal served as Illinois State University’s Director of Sustainability for four years, and was also a consultant in the “socially responsible investment industry.” In her new role at RIT, Cardinal looks to help lead the campus toward carbon-neutrality by 2030, among other goals that will help the school cement its status as a leader in sustainability.
“There’s no easy answer to anything that’s going on in modern day society,” she said, “So we need to determine, based on the pros and cons, what’s right for us. What we want to do is encourage students to use their voice as citizens — we want to encourage them to be engaged.”