shale gas

David Spence, law and business professor, said at a lecture Thursday that although fracking enables efficient access to natural gas, it also poses several risks to communities.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a process that involves shooting pressurized water, chemicals and sand into deposits of bedrock — in this case shale — to extract natural gas for use as fuel.

Major risks Spence discussed include water leakage and contamination, higher air pollution levels and an increased potential for earthquakes in the area. Direct impacts on citizens include risks to the local quality of life, such as noise, local emissions and general road issues.

Spence said shale gas burns more cleanly than both oil and coal, causing the environmental benefits to outweigh the risks. In less than a decade, Spence said, shale gas has notably affected the fuel industry, reaching the commercial transportation sector in an extremely accelerated span of time.

“Shale gas production has revolutionized the energy industry,” Spence said. “We were importing almost 60 percent of our fuel in the 1970s, and thanks to recent innovations, prices have plunged, and the U.S. is able to now export some of its unused coal.”

Spence’s outlining of the potential arguments against fracking was apolitical and touched upon topics ranging from environmental to socioeconomic impacts.

Carson Stones, a master’s candidate at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said Spence’s lecture draws students of all majors. 

“We come from all disciplines,” Stones said. “You can’t be an engineer or a businessman and expect to solve all the problems yourself.”

The U.S. is the leading producer of shale gas, and Texas has access to some of the cheapest natural gas in the U.S., according to Spence. 

“If prices stay cheap, [shale gas] could displace coal altogether and permeate into the private fuel industry, introducing new jobs to communities,” Spence said.

Varun Rai — assistant professor at the LBJ School and instructor of the UT Energy Symposium course, which organized the lecture — said he has high hopes for the program in the future.

“What’s interesting about shale gas fracking in particular is the sheer speed of its impact,” Rai said.