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Letter to the Editor

ROBERT BURKARD

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 15:11

I have just read the email sent by President Tripathi about the closing of the Shale Resources and Society Institute. By way of disclosure, I should note that I am not enthusiastic about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of the Marcellus Shale in New York State.

My reasons for this view are selfish ones: I own a house on Lake Chautauqua. I do not want to find natural gas in my well water, have to tolerate the traffic noise and dust from all the trucks moving through the area or worry about the consequences to my personal (and public) health from whatever toxic agents are in the ‘proprietary’ fracking fluids that seem to at least occasionally get spilled. I should also note that I do not think it is a good idea to further harm the environment in Alaska by running another pipeline, nor would I like to see any strip mining for coal in my neighborhood or see the sun set behind a nuclear power plant near the lake.

However, the above is my disclosure, not the reason I am writing this editorial. Two things have bothered me about the handling of this institute. The first is that there has been public comment about the institute that questioned the honesty of Dean Bruce Pitman. I was, and remain, deeply offended by these accusations.

While I applaud the public call for transparency in funding of the institute and agree that all publications arising from our university should be evidence based, public personal attacks are unacceptable. I have known Dean Pitman for many years. While we do not have a close personal relationship, our relationship is a collegial one. He is a man of great personal integrity. I have never heard him misrepresent the truth. I have seen no evidence in the public discourse about the institute that suggests that he was anything but truthful in his statements about the funding of the institute. While a public apology might be expecting too much, I sincerely hope private apologies have been offered to Dean Pitman.  

My second problem is that I believe the institute should not be closed but rather reconstituted to include representatives from both sides of this issue. I see President Tripathi has promised the dialogue will continue, representing a broader range of views about fracking, perhaps like a phoenix rising from the ashes. This resurrection will take time, but time is very likely not on our side.

Now that the elections are over, our governor and the legislature will come under ever-increasing pressure to allow fracking in New York State. Here at UB, let us behave like a major research institution.  Let us tackle the big social issues of the day (such as fracking), have public seminars and debates that clarify and highlight the issues, both economic and environmental. Let us have industry stakeholders who are in support of fracking work alongside environmentalists who are against it.

There have been a series of research initiatives over the last decade here at UB (e.g., UB2020). What could be more critical to Western New York than its environment and its economy? If these issues are not publicly debated and serve as the basis for more research, how do we know the true risks and benefits of fracking? How do we get our legislators to provide the environmental safeguards we critically need?

Speaking personally, there are environmental concerns right now that outweigh the benefits of fracking. However, with the correct measures taken to protect the environment, perhaps the cost-benefit ratio of fracking can be improved to the point where it is acceptable to those of us who are currently concerned. Perhaps we can even do this in a collegial fashion.

 

Robert Burkard

Professor and Chair

Rehabilitation Science

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