Shalini here, reporting back from the 2012 Environmental Challenge International (ECi) competition at the AWMA conference in San Antonio, Texas. This year’s challenge presented a problem that is increasingly a point of contention in the enviro-sphere, that is, the issue of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, for natural gas extraction. The premise of the competition was that our team’s role was that of a environmental consulting firm, representing a local school board in the county of Karnes, Texas, which was intending to lease some of their land for oil and gas development using fracking. The competition gave us a sample of a number of different points in the whole process, starting with the submission of a short proposal outlining the details of the development that was to take place. Next up was the poster presentation, where we answered questions from judges and role-players pretending to be residents of the community. I felt that the poster, as well as the presentation that followed, gave the undergrads on our team the chance to dip our toes into the world of academic conferences, so that if we ever return to present research as graduate students, we might be better prepared. But for me, the biggest surprise was the way the competition got us involved in the topic we were studying.
There’s something about being immersed in a dialogue about an issue that I previously knew next to nothing about, but that is currently affecting the lives of tens of thousands of our neighbours to the South. Somehow, even though the battle over fracking rages on in the States, and increasingly internationally, most people I have talked to know are unaware of what it actually entails. Being forced to consider the different viewpoints and arguments surrounding the issue – and to evaluate them for myself – gave me a new perspective on the roles and responsibilities of environmental professionals. Time and time again in our research material, and in talking to experts in various fields, I kept coming up with the same common thread; that we have to be the ones asking the questions, doing the math, checking and re-checking facts – because if we don’t, who else will?
At any rate, the experience of the competition was very positive. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who took the time out of their busy schedules to support us in our endeavor; including the group of professionals that the local AWMA chapter arranged for us to meet with prior to the conference, and the judging panel at the competition itself, who helped us learn just as much as they were evaluating us. Not to mention, the friendly atmosphere of the competition as a whole, and the number of students we met from universities all over North America.
If you ever have the chance to go yourself, take it from me – you won’t regret it!