Monday, December 03, 2012

University of Tennessee will allow fracking in research forest to study its impact

In a move that would allow researchers to study the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, the University of Tennessee plans to lease land in its research forest, Cumberland Forest, to a gas company, reports Megan Boehnke of the Knoxville News Sentinel. The university will start seeking bids early next year from gas companies to drill the land in Scott and Morgan counties. Under the contract, companies would send royalties from any gas produced to the school. Royalty money would be used to research fracking impacts on wildlife, geology and air and water quality, university officials said. (N-S photo by Michael Patrick: Forest manager shows area to be drlled)

Research results could influence industry standards and state regulations, Boehnke reports. "We have the ability to do this in a controlled manner, controlled science, where it will be peer-reviewed and it can be trusted. That's why we believe we need to weigh in here," said UT Institute of Agriculture director Larry Arrington. There's a clause in the contract that would allow UT researchers to "pull the plug if anything goes wrong," he said.

Tennessee is "a small-scale producer" of oil and gas, making some of the more common environmental concerns about fracking not as severe, Boehnke writes. The state's Chattanooga Shale is shallow, no more than about 3,000 feet deep. Companies often use nitrogen to frack shallow shale rather than typical hydraulic fracturing chemicals. There's been little research conducted about nitrogen fracking, Arrington told Boehnke. (Read more)

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