Last summer, while lawmakers, activists and members of Congress debated the merits and risks of fracking (a form of natural gas drilling,) Matt Cortese took it upon himself to get to the root of the matter. Cortese realized that there was little detailed information available to help government agencies and lawmakers make accurate decisions about fracking, so he decided to put this information together into what he called a "one-stop shop" about fracking.

Cortese earned an eight-week assignment through New York's public works internship program to research water quality issues. He focused his efforts on Marcellus Shale development (a major source of natural gas that runs through Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York) and a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing.

Cortese compiled as many details as possible about the fracking process, including how the Marcellus was formed, the technology that can be used to draw gas from it, as well as how that technology can affect water quality. In his documentation, the Cornell grad itemizes hundreds of chemical byproducts from the various steps of the process, which involves injecting millions of gallons of chemical solutions into a well bore under high pressure to fracture the shale and release gas.

"It's so personal," Cortese said in an interview with the The Ithaca Journal. "This is my home, and I care very much about it." 

The crux of his research is documenting the chemical byproducts, their health implications, and their possible pathways into the water supply as they are handled and discarded.  

"He's taken a very reasonable approach here, not being alarmist, but saying what's real and not real about this process, based on a very thorough search of the literature," said Nelson Hairston, an aquatic biology professor and Cortese's adviser in the same Ithaca Journal article. "It adds information that raises the level of discussion."   

Cornell grad gets to the fracking point
Binghamton, N.Y., native demystifies the fracking process with a detailed guide to natural gas production.