MORGANTOWN – The world is facing an ever increasing challenge in its energy usage. 

West Virginia University College of Law professor Joshua Fershee, also the associate dean for faculty research and development, recently addressed some of these concerns at the 14th Annual Kratovil Conference on Real Estate Law & Practice in Chicago.

The conference, hosted by The John Marshall Law School, focused on “Fracking, Energy Sources, Climate Change and Real Estate.” 

The conference, according to Fershee, went well. He said fracking is important to West Virginia.

“Well, it’s both a big challenge and a big opportunity for the state,” he said. “It’s a natural resource that can facilitate manufacturing. It can create jobs in the area and really help boost an economy that has been flagging especially with the low prices of coal and the low prices of gases has increased the use of natural gas for electricity generation.

"It’s a real opportunity there [West Virginia] to try and use that resource to fill in where coal has not been holding its market share.”

Fracking is a relatively new procedure that involves a process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The gas is then collected for usage after refinement.

Many environmental groups and local communities are concerned about fracking because of its potential waste pollution. Fershee said he is aware of the potential environmental risks of fracking.

“The challenge, of course, is an environmental challenge and making sure we do it right," he said. "The impact it has on local communities and the environment is a challenge that goes along with the opportunity.”

Careful monitoring of the water waste is vital, according to the professor.

“A lot of the companies are doing it well," Fershee said. "Unfortunately, some of them are not. One of the key things that they have to do is to be sure that they work to minimize the impact of where their waste goes when it comes back.

"People tend to get worried about the fluid that goes into the ground and what the research at WVU is showing is that it is the water that comes back up from the drilling process that is the biggest risk. A lot of companies have started recycling in this area, which is a very good thing. Recycling that waste water.

"But making sure that the people they hire to dispose of or transport [the recycled water] do a good job is one of the most critical parts of limiting impact and making sure we don’t end up with waste water where it doesn’t belong.”

Waste going where it doesn’t belong has always been a large problem derived from energy usage. Matter is never destroyed but converted from one form to another. Waste from fracking, waste from drilling, and even carbon waste from vehicle emissions all goes back to the environment.

In an effort to reduce carbon waste from vehicle emissions, Fershee suggests an alternative fuel for cars: electricity. In fact, he believes that electric vehicle is the best alternative to gasoline.

“One of things we are starting to see is more plug-in vehicles,” he said. “One of the things I like about the plug-in hybrids is that you get to run on gasoline…but for people who are going only 20 to 40 miles, they don’t necessary need to use gasoline at all. I think part of this is something that can be a market driven solution. And frankly,

"I think that electricity, if we don’t influence the market too much by choosing something else … electricity will actually eventually take over because at some point we are going to have to transition away from gasoline.”

The transition away from gasoline to electricity is going to take time and effort but it is the most logical choice, according to Fershee.

“The question is how long? I don’t know, but that’s going to happen,” he said. “And the reason I suggest electricity is the best move is because it’s only one switch. One you switch to electricity, you can use coal, you can use nuclear power, you can use wind, you can use solar. Anything that generates electricity, the vehicle can run on.

"So you never have a problem in terms of being to able to generate electricity because all those resources. But if you switch to natural gas and then switch them to hydrogen then to electricity … it’s going to be very costly. If we are going to make a switch, which I think we will, making one switch rather than a series of switches makes a lot more sense in the transportation area.”

One switch instead of bombarding the market and consumer with multiple options is the means for a steady transition away from gasoline dependency.

One switch is all it takes to change the world.

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