Experts Explore Whether Hydraulic Fracturing is a Bridge to a Clean Energy Future

Experts Explore Whether Hydraulic Fracturing is a Bridge to a Clean Energy Future

On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, a panel of energy experts converged at Kroon Hall to discuss the future of hydraulic fracturing—an emergent, hotly contested technique of extracting natural gas from rock layers beneath the earth. Between those witnessing the panel live and those tuning in to live stream coverage of the event from our overflow space and around the world, the total audience amounted to roughly 900.

Exploring the complexity of the practice of “fracking,” the panel’s talk culminated a host of fracking-related events sponsored by the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Bringing together experts from academia, industry, and the policy realm, Tuesday’s panel featured a moderated discussion of the gains and risks involved in the nation’s adoption of an energy portfolio including fracked natural gas.

The panel consisted of hydrologist Jim Saiers, professor and associate dean of academic affairs at the School, Sheila Olmstead, formerly professor of environmental economics at the school and now a fellow at Resources for the Future, John Hofmeister, former CEO of Shell Oil Company and now an advocate for affordable energy, and the eminent environmentalist Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College.

Brad Gentry, who co-directs Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment, moderated the panelists. He began the conversation by commenting that the practice of fracking is “highly controversial, vitally important, and worthy of critical analysis from a variety of perspectives.” And thus that “it is exactly the kind of topic we want to discuss at the School.”

The event’s organizers handpicked the panelists to represent distinct stances along the spectrum of public opinion regarding hydraulic fracturing. While McKibben and Hofmeister championed opposite ends of the playing field of ideas, the more centrist panelists provided perspectives on the drawbacks and benefits of fracking, elucidating especially the aspects of fracking in critical need of further research.

For the general public, the panel provided insight from the vanguard: the experts most intimately familiar with the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Perhaps more importantly, however, the panel empowered our students to join the dialogue and use their F&ES educations in service to our country’s clean energy future.

Here is the video of the panel:

For an assemblage of media coverage on fracking-related events at Yale, please see

 Anandi van Diepen is a first-year Master of Environmental Science student working in the area of environmental health inequality.