Environmental Defense Fund is “Finding the Ways that Work”

I started my internship at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) as a Researcher in their Natural Gas Program in NYC three weeks ago. I would argue that Environmental Defense Fund’s slogan, “finding the ways that work,” accurately summarizes their overall objective as an environmental advocacy organization.  EDF is unique in that they approach environmental issues using not only sound science, economics, and law, but also by collaborating with all stakeholders and creating unique partnerships including members of industry, business, farmers, and the military.  Their multidimensional and bipartisan approach places EDF in a position that is realistic and effective, and thus the organization is finding the ways that work for all vested interest groups.

I find that EDF’s strategy aligns well with my own beliefs about how to address complex environmental issues for two main reasons.  First, as students at BCEP, we are learning to evaluate issues from multiple perspectives. I am constantly inspired at EDF by witnessing the largely successful collaboration of brilliant and passionate lawyers, scientists, and economists across a wide range of complex issues with multiple constituents.  Second, I believe that all relevant sides of an argument must be evaluated in order to find a workable solution. There are often many different significant issues at play that require consideration and often no single straight-forward solution exists.  With that in mind, EDF’s dedication to finding smart, balanced and achievable solutions is highly effective and is reflected in my work with their natural gas team.

My main project at EDF is to develop a dynamic virtual map of natural gas regulations at the state level. I am researching and summarizing regulations that govern the natural gas extraction process across the US.  With this information, I will work with EDF’s web development team to create an interactive map that will detail natural gas regulations for each of 14 states that EDF is focusing their efforts. The map will be placed on the natural gas section of their website in order to educate the public and members of EDF, inform researchers, and guide leaders in science and policy regarding current state legislation. I am starting with chemical disclosure laws and I will eventually expand to include other topics, such as water management and waste water, well construction and integrity, air quality, and community impact.

Based on my research leading up to this project, I can attest to the fact that most other sources of information detailing chemical disclosure related to natural gas regulations have major discrepancies and are largely limited or outdated.  This may be because of the fact that laws are constantly changing, and–as EDF and others work to strengthen the laws that govern environmentally-responsible extraction of natural gas –it is important to locate, analyze, and evaluate the most thorough and up-to-date information.

A few eyebrows may have raised just now in reading the phrase “environmentally responsible extraction of natural gas,” so let me briefly explain.  There are plenty of reasons to be wary of the natural gas extraction process. However, we must understand that natural gas development is happening across the map (for example, EIA states that US increased production from 342,000 wells in 2000 to 510,000 wells in 2010) and is now a major contributor to our increasing energy independence. In addition, it has revitalized economies of communities across the US and has greatly increased demand for steel and other industries that are creating jobs in the US.  Although there are many sensitive areas that require total bans, it is important to ensure that where natural gas development is happening, it does so in a manner that thoroughly protects human health and the environment.

We must also understand that there are environmental benefits to be had from natural gas. For example, natural gas has 50% fewer carbon emissions than coal and 20-30% fewer emissions than oil, and can sometimes be used as a fuel to ramp up and ramp down intermittent alternative energy supplies such as wind and solar energy. But this is only possible if (and as EDF’s president explains, “this is a big IF,”) we capture methane emissions and achieve regulations that enforce adequate chemical disclosure, well integrity, water quality and management, air quality, and community protection.

So for the time being, I am happily researching and gathering data on natural gas regulations across the US. Through this work, I am developing valuable networking contacts in their NYC and Austin offices. For example, I am refining skills in communication and creative problem solving by discussing complex ideas and aligning my work with natural gas experts at EDF.  I am also seeing first-hand the reality of natural gas extraction regulation not only as an academic question, but as a collaborative effort from various groups of different backgrounds.

As an intern, I can rely on my youthful spirit to get the job done and still be able to ask beginner questions such as, “What do you, as developed professionals, do to stay on top of the enormous amounts of new information constantly available?” Clearly, I am inspired by the work of EDF and hope that one day I may work with them or a similar organization to influence policy.

About Maxine Segarnick