“Fracking” Conference Held at UMass Amherst

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could be coming to the Connecticut River valley. A conference on the controversial method of extracting shale gas was held Thursday at UMass Amherst. The event, organized by the American Ground Water Trust, sought to inform local stakeholders of the benefits and risks of “fracking.”

The conference stemmed from a June U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report which found the Hartford basin has the potential to produce natural gas from shale deposits. But it did not discover oil or gas ready for extraction. The Hartford basin is a geologic formation stretching from near the Vermont border to Connecticut’s shoreline. James Coleman, a research geologist with the USGS says it’s unlikely “fracking” will occur in the near future, but the technology could eventually be developed to extract gas from the region.

“If the price of gas were to go up extremely high, I don’t know what that is, but, y’know, high, then it becomes more lucrative for someone to develop the technology.”

But just the prospect of “fracking” in the region has already sparked pushback. A group of students and residents calling itself “Don’t Frack the Valley” staged a protest outside the conference.  

Martha Pskowski, a senior at Hampshire College, and an organizer of the protest says the group knows “fracking” could be a long way off.

“And even if it’s not feasible now, this area could be subject to ‘fracking’ or other extraction methods in the future, and we want to be on the forefront of saying ‘no’ to that.”

The protest drew over fifty people. Meanwhile, Garret Graaskamp, a hydro-geologist with the American Ground Water Trust says discussing “fracking” and the regulations and concerns that come with it before any industry development occurs is beneficial to the region.

“Shale development may or may not come. We don’t know that, that will have to come from investigations down the road. But Massachusetts citizens now have the opportunity to get good information, and develop plans that they want to have in place should that actually happen in the future.”

Graaskamp says the American Ground Water Trust works to represent both sides of energy issues at its conferences, though several employees of the energy industry serve on its board.