May 2, 2014

Assessing the U.S. Hydraulic Fracturing Boom: Overview, Challenges and Opportunities, and the Transportation Research Agenda

Time

1:40 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Location

1605 Tilia, Room 1103, West Village

Speaker(s)

Gwen Arnold, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis

Abstract

Hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) is a form of natural gas drilling that began booming in the United States in the mid- to late-2000s. Between 2008 and 2011, yields from U.S. shale resources more than doubled. Today, hydrofracturing is responsible for more than 30 percent of the nation’s natural gas production, and that figure is steadily climbing. This is a trend to which transportation researchers should be keenly sensitive, since hydrofracturing has been shown to have major impacts on transportation infrastructure. The drilling process involves injecting highly pressurized liquid into wellbores. A given hydrofracking well can require 4–9 million gallons of liquid that often must be transported to the drill site over rural roads ill-equipped to deal extensive traffic from vehicles that can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. In Texas, where hydrofracking is prevalent, the state department of transportation recently estimated that maintaining infrastructure affected by the recent drilling boom could cost up to $4 billion annually.

In this presentation, I will provide an overview of the hydraulic fracturing process, challenges and opportunities frequently discussed in reference to this drilling technique, and the evolving policy and regulatory landscape. I will also briefly describe my hydrofracking research program, which involves (1) analyzing the determinants and nature of municipal-level civic engagement with respect to shale gas drilling, (2) developing political economic theory to explain institution choice and institutional fit in hydrofracking governance, and (3) studying the adoption and diffusion of municipal-level policies concerning hydrofracking, including road use and zoning ordinances that can affect the transportation impacts of drilling. Up until now, this research program has not explicitly focused on these transportation impacts. Thus, the presentation is intended to stimulate discussion among participants about aspects of hydrofracking most compelling or amenable to transportation-related research. 

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Gwen Arnold is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis, where she works in the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior. She is also an affiliated faculty member at the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. She graduated in 2012 from Indiana University with a degree in public policy, studying under the late Elinor Ostrom. Her research focuses on environmental policy, with substantive emphases on wetland management and hydraulic fracturing policy and theoretical emphases on bureaucratic behavior, federalism, policy entrepreneurship, and institutional analysis. She previously was a research fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Region 3) and worked at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC, as a research associate and editor.