Facilitating Hydraulic Fracturing Workshops for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

CBI facilitates meetings on hydraulic fracturing for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, bringing together technical experts from across the country and carefully managing dialogue on this highly sensitive subject.

Background and Challenges

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used to create fluid-filled fractures in rock or coal formations to aid the extraction of oil and gas, and other resources. Advocates point out that large deposits here in the United States will allow increased natural gas production that will in turn lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs. Detractors draw attention to the potential environmental and health risks, such as the contamination of drinking water by the gas, as well as by the variety of chemicals used in the fracturing process. The increased use of fracturing, combined with a number of high profile lawsuits and rising media exposure, has triggered further investigation into its safety by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

At Congress’ request, the EPA embarked on a multi-year study of hydraulic fracturing, focusing on its effects on water supply. They hosted a number of public meetings to determine specific areas of public concern, and, based on feedback, created a study plan. So that their final study would be built on a solid technical platform, the EPA asked CBI to facilitate four workshops with technical experts to look at fracturing fluids, wellhead construction, geology, toxicity, ground water contamination and treatment, and best practices. These meetings were to:

  • Bring together the best technical experts to educate and inform the EPA study team.
  • Determine the areas of greatest uncertainty and identify which topics need further study.
  • Promote dialogue among participants on the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and its viability as a sustainable energy solution.
  • Build networks among diverse interests and sectors.

The CBI Approach

CBI ensures that EPA’s meetings generate as much technical information as possible by creating theme leads, streamlining presentations, preparing presenters, focusing on technical discussions, and more.

When designing the meetings, CBI and EPA engaged a range of participants, including the hydraulic fracturing industry, state and federal agencies, NGOs, and academics. Each brought varying priorities: industry members wanted to ensure that the federal government understands the many technical details of fracturing; and others wanted to ask the hard questions about hydraulic fracturing safety, and government's ability to regulate it.

CBI helped keep the meeting focused around a technical conversation, rather than a policy one, and provided tight timekeeping to ensure that everyone had a chance to ask questions. CBI and EPA worked closely with presenters before the meetings to streamline presentations and ensure that presenters were fully prepared and familiar with the meeting format. Theme leads from outside EPA were appointed to help structure the presentations and the overall agenda. The leads helped identify and prepare presenters, reduce redundancy across presentations, and summarize issues for participants throughout the day. This technique saved time, kept questions on topic, and helped everyone understand the process and information more clearly.

Results

The meetings provided EPA with a solid technical platform from which to carry out their hydraulic fracturing study, which they expect to complete in 2014.

The four meetings produced a wealth of solid technical information, rich dialogue on various topics, and led to a highly informed EPA study team. Research is to be completed by the end of 2012, with an EPA report to follow in 2014.