Duke University, known for its advocacy of global warming and environmental sciences, is adding "fracking" to its repertoire and holding a conference next week on the topic in Durham.
The Jan. 9 conference, free to the public, comes in the wake of a study issued last year by Duke scientists linking fracking to contamination of drinking water in Pennsylvania. The Duke study, incidentally, was roundly criticized by the oil and gas industry as biased and unsound, criticisms that are likely to be repeated at next week's conference.
Duke's conference, which will consider the environmental and social implications of fracking, is designed to bring together advocates and critics of fracking. The term refers to hydraulic fracturing, a technology that involves pumping water and chemicals deep into the ground under high pressure to release natural gas trapped in prehistoric shale rock formations.
The issue is gaining prominence in this state, where an estimated 1,400 square miles of shale rock are believed to hold several decades of natural gas supplies, mostly centered around Lee, Moore and Chatham counties. Supporters of fracking say it's the best option for tapping a clean-burning fossil fuel as an alternative to imported oil and dirty coal.
The state legislature will likely debate legalizing fracking and horizontal drilling in this state, and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is expected to issue a draft study of fracking's pros and cons in March.
The opening remarks of Duke's conference will come from Avner Vengosh, Professor of Geochemistry and Water Quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, and author of the controversial 2011 study that linked fracking to water contamination.
Speakers include representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Environmental Defense Fund as well as the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, Labyrinth Consulting.