Friday, October 28, 2011

Impressions from a Frac Site

An energy company generously allowed several students and me to watch a perforating and hydraulic fracturing operation at a vertical Woodford Shale gas well today.  (After drilling and casing a well, the company isolates and punches holes in (perforates) the portions of the well and casing that will be fractured.  This allows acid, water, chemicals, and proppant to move into the shale around the casing when pumped at high pressure down the well.)  Several things struck me.  First, I was surprised by the density of the operation.  The site was small, but the fracturing service company had managed to pack a menagerie of complicated industrial equipment onto a postage stamp of dirt and gravel in the midst of tree-lined agricultural fields.  The machine used to pump the fracturing fluid at high pressure down the well involves a maze of heavy pipes, valves, and gauges all packed together on what appears to be a mobile trailer bed.  But they don't really rest on the bed; the web of pipes themselves seem to form a compact, moving component.  It's like a huge pump station on wheels.  And that was just one piece of equipment.  A range of trailers, trucks, and other machinery, most of which seemed to have diesel engines, chugged away as employees first perforated very small portions of the well and casing (at a depth of more than 12,000 feet), reeled up and depressurized the perforating gun, pressure tested the well, applied an acid treatment, and then pumped various mixtures of water, chemicals, and sand down the well to fracture and prop open the fractures in the shale.  The engines around the site created a constant, low-level roar, although we could still hear the explanations of processes on site as they unfolded. 

Second, I was surprised by the number of computers.  I had known that employees monitored the operation on a variety of computer screens in a trailer, but I was interested to see the complex program used.  Charts of numbers ran like tickers on several screens, showing updated depths, pressures, and rates of acid, water/chemical, or proppant application, among other data, and several graphs ran simultaneously on other screens.  The chemicals all sat in big plastic tanks outside (each approximately the size of a large, squat refrigerator) surrounded by metal wire and connected to thick rubber hoses (Goodyear, for example) lined with a metal mesh.  They each had a prominent label attached.  The acid tanks--thick metal boxes that could hold at least two or three refrigerators, probably--sat on another side of the site.  They, too, were attached to big industrial hoses. There were small pools or piles of things at a few points on the site--a bit of sand or resin proppant here, a small, unidentified puddle of something else there.  As the perforating gun was being pulled up out of the wellbore, drops of liquid fell on us from the cable above the wellhead.  It was whitish;  I guessed that it may have been the salty water that comes up naturally out of the formation.  None of this, although it was really interesting, seemed too eventful.  I imagined how the situation could potentially get more eventful if things went wrong--if the well hadn't been cased correctly, for example, or if a chemical spilled out of the hose while being transferred from a truck to a tank.  As it was, though, I felt like I was in the middle of small yet complex and quite busy industrial operation that had suddenly sprung up in a rural area, and this operation also happened to be drilling, perforating, and fracturing things at 12,000-foot depths.   The 12,000-foot depth thing still gets me every time.  We have to drill that far down now to get to fuel?  Really?  A final surprise:  the mobile food truck--like one of those fancy things in hip urban downtowns (minus the blatantly artistic paint)--that rolled up to the site to serve meat, potatoes, hot tortilla soup, salad, and banana pudding.  (We were told that they don't eat like that every day, but some enterprising chef certainly has hatched a smart business plan for the middle of gas country.) 

-Hannah Wiseman

October 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Call for Articles - Natural Resources & Environment

Interested in publishing a shorter article in a publication read by a large audience? The ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources ("SEER") has just put out a call for articles in its quarterly publication, Natural Resources & Environment.

The theme of the issue is the "New Federalism" in environmental law. The deadline for article proposals is soon: Friday, November 4. Details are below.

NR&E Summer 2012 Notice

The ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources’ magazine Natural Resources & Environment will devote its Summer 2012 issue to articles on New Federalism.

The editors of NR&E are looking for articles discussing a range of environmental, natural resource, and energy law and policy topics associated with the current tension between state and federal regulatory responsibility and with the growing Congressional assertiveness on environmental, natural resource and energy issues. Articles may address state, national, or international issues. Suggested topics include:

  • De-delegation
  • MOAs
  • Clean Air Act (climate change, ozone standard)
  • Citizen suits
  • Texas vs. EPA
  • FERC and DOE entering into areas that used to be in purview of states
  • Vermont Yankee relicensing case
  • Congressional activism on environmental/ energy/ resource issues
  • RGGI
  • Environmental enforcement at the federal, state and local level
  • States leading climate change charge
  • USACE, overriding state concerns
  • State, RTO (regional transmission operator)/ISO
  • EPA and Surface Mining Act
  • Agency issues
  • Congress v. Agencies
  • Separation of powers
  • Role of science
  • Cross-jurisdictional consistency/standards


Please circulate this notice to members of your committee, asking any member interested in writing an article for this issue to submit a proposal describing the article’s specific topic, including why the topic is important, and how the article will relate to the theme of the issue. Authors should use the proposal form and include full contact information and indicate their professional employment, position, or affiliation. Proposal forms should be e-mailed to the Issue Editor (below). Authors may also e-mail their proposals in the body of an e-mail to the Issue Editor provided that they give all of the information requested on the proposal form. The editors seek articles covering a diverse range of topics written by a diverse range of authors.

Article selection will be made by mid-November. Article drafts are due by January 24, 2012.

Authors will work with an editor from the NR&E Board throughout the publication process and will be assigned a specific word count limit within the range of 2,500-5,000 words. Articles should be written in magazine style (no footnotes). NR&E article guidelines can be found on the ABA Web site at

Jonathan Scoll at

-Lincoln Davies

October 27, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On the Education of Environmental Law Professors

Earlier today, the AALS issued a call for papers for a 2012 mid-year meeting focused on environmental law, torts, and disaster law.  Part of the call for papers addresses the burgeoning field of disaster law.  The other part addresses the relationships between junior and senior environmental law faculty.  Here’s the blurb:

Earlier this year, the envlawprofessors listserv carried an active and somewhat surprising discussion regarding the relationship between senior and junior teachers of environmental law. That discussion opened up a host of questions regarding generations within environmental law. How welcoming and supportive of junior professors is the environmental law field? Are junior professors being given adequate opportunities to receive feedback on their work? Do senior professors signal appropriate degrees of openness to new or challenging ideas? What can be done to overcome any perceived deficiencies in the mentoring practices of the field? Are enough entering law professors being encouraged to enter environmental law teaching? Does the legal academic tenure process pose special challenges for environmental law specialists?

It’s an intriguing set of questions.  But because I only have relatively uninteresting stories of people being supportive and nice, I won’t add much to the discussion. I wonder, however, if an even more important subject is the relationship between the environmental law academy and the wannabe professors preparing to enter the academy.  That, I suspect, is where deficient mentoring and educational practices can more readily be found.

A quick anecdote captures the problem.  For the first time in my short professorial career, I’m on a dissertation committee.  Last week the committee held its first meeting.  We spent most of the meeting discussing the candidate’s thesis proposal, but for the last few minutes we discussed her plans for her remaining coursework.  Should she a qualitative research methods class?  Would a law school course be helpful?  Had she taken enough stats courses?

As we talked, I found myself wondering two things.  First, how many aspiring environmental law professors have been the beneficiaries of this sort of discussion?  Probably very few, with the exception of the small set of JD/Ph.Ds out there.  We may have received a little informal advice during law school, or we may not have realized until close to or after graduation that perhaps we should tailor our course selection to a future academic career.  Either way, I suspect that very, very few of us ever had a group of professors sit around and spend several hours helping us plan our educational trajectory.

Second, how many aspiring law professors have taken the sort of advanced courses on research methodology (again, leaving aside the JD/PhDs) that are standard fare for Ph.D. candidates in other fields?  Of course, we’ve all taken legal research and writing and probably all did some sort of upper level writing project while in law school.  But legal research and writing courses usually focus on traditional legal research for traditional legal advocacy, and I wonder how much research education most schools provide to students doing upper level writing projects.  And many of the skills an environmental law researcher now might find useful—the ability to understand literature from other fields; the ability to gather useful quantitative and qualitative data, whether through coding traditional legal sources or through surveys, focus groups, or interviews; the statistical sophistication to do quantitative analyses; and perhaps even the ability to use GIS or other spatial analysis technologies, among others—aren’t taught in law school.  If we do have those skills, we probably developed them through self-education or just drew upon some prior period in our educational life. 

Of course, the absence of that educational background doesn’t prevent people from doing good work.  Indeed, an earlier generation of environmental law scholars did a lot of wonderful work without having any prior coursework in environmental law.  We can all learn as we go.  But I still wonder if the quality of our collective research output might be greatly improved, and if junior faculty might enter the profession with a clearer sense of their identity as researchers, if we had a little more education prior to entering the field.

So when and where should that additional education be provided?  One possibility is to encourage more aspiring professors to get Ph.Ds.  That would address some of the skills questions, but it seems rather exclusive to limit entry into the legal academy to people willing and able to spend so many years in graduate school, particularly as the costs of legal education continue to rise.  An LLM focused on environmental research would be another intriguing option.  But I wonder if the simplest alternative would be to integrate some research-focused coursework into fellowships and VAPs.  Perhaps I’m being naïve here (I didn’t do a VAP, so I may have an overly rosy view of what they accomplish), but it seems to me that unless the school is imposing a heavy teaching load, there ought to be enough time in the first year of a two-year VAP to do some coursework as well as teach and write.  And perhaps the benefits of that coursework would last for a career.

-Dave Owen

October 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

The Independence of Climate Change Scientists

Last week, the big climate change news was that a group of scientists who had previously expressed climate skepticism analyzed the data and found that they indeed show that global temperatures are rising.  While I was glad to see some skeptics having to eat their words, I was disheartened by the use of the term “independent” in the media’s reporting.  Many news outlets actually used the term to describe the climate skeptics, even though they were partly funded by the Koch brothers.  And by implication, to the average reader, all those other climate scientists aren’t independent.

Here are a few examples (emphasis added): 

Guardian headline and tagline:   “Global warming study finds no grounds for climate sceptics' concerns: Independent investigation of the key issues sceptics claim can skew global warming figures reports that they have no real effect

CNN headline and first line: “New climate study deals blow to skeptics.  An independent study of global temperature records has reaffirmed previous conclusions by climate scientists that global warming is real.”

BBC headline:  “Global warming 'confirmed' by independent study

(And it turns out that Fox News didn’t report the new study at all, according to

On the other hand, my respect for news outlets that placed the modifier correctly grew.  For example:

Christian Science Monitor headline and tagline: “Climate study, funded in part by conservative group, confirms global warming: The latest global warming results confirm those from earlier, independent studies by scientists at NASA and elsewhere that came under fire from skeptics in an episode known as 'climategate.'”

- Lesley McAllister

October 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Forests Worth More than a Gold Mine

I am partial to forests. I believe that of all the natural resources, forests provide the most environmental and economic "bang for the buck." Consider all of the following that forests do, and feel free to add items in the comments section as I am undoubtedly leaving out some important functions. Forests provide:

  • a renewable source of building materials and associated jobs
  • a renewable source of paper products and associated jobs
  • clean air services (filtering and trapping air pollutants)
  • clean water services by preventing nutrient and other chemical run-off from entering our waterways; ultimately protecting fisheries in areas like the Gulf (since eutrophication from nutrient runoff leads to "dead zones" where fish cannot survive).
  • flood control services
  • regulation of local ambient air temperatures in urban and rural areas during the summer
  • energy cost savings for households and businesses
  • a renewable source of fuel in the form of cellulosic ethanol (which unlike starch/corn-based ethanol has actually been shown to reduce greenhouse gases)
  • a global climate regulator and major carbon sink/source of carbon sequestration (20 percent of all carbon emissions worldwide come from forest destruction and degradation - more than is emitted by the transportation sector each year)
  • renewable and biodegradable plastics (we will, after all, run out of petroleum one day)
  • aesthetic values (a park without a tree is, well, not a park)
  • cultural values (think sequoias and redwoods)
  • recreational values (hunting, hiking, and other activities)
  • endangered and other animal species habitat

...and the list goes on. When considering the total value of all these services, it would seem that forests are indeed worth more than a gold mine, as was recently discussed by Jason Sohigian of the Armenia Tree Project, seen below.

- Blake Hudson


October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Case You Missed It -- The Week of October 16 to 22

Climate change regulation is dead?  Not in California, which this week adopted the nation's first economy-wide cap-and-trade program.

The Tenth Circuit, in a 120-page decision, upheld a Clinton-era rule protecting 50 million acres of forestland from logging and roads.

The Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released its first annual rankings of states; Massachusetts was first, with California second.

An advocacy study observed that FCC standards for cell phones "grossly underestimate[] the amount" of radiation that "smaller adults and children retain," as reported by Greenwire.

BP received approval for a plan to explore for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, its first such approval since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

There is a fascinating article this week in The New Yorker about the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan.  (hat tip: Joe Tomain)

October 23, 2011 in Asia, Cases, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)