Chemistry and Engineering of Shale Gas and Tight Oil Resource Development

Agenda | Workshop Report | Speaker Biographies | Organizer Biographies

Oil and gas exploration in the United States has expanded with the increased use of horizontal, or directional, drilling to facilitate the recovery of shale gas and tight oil resources. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 25,000 to 30,000 new hydraulic fracturing wells were drilled each year between 2011 to 2014, and the impact of those wells and the use of hydraulic fracturing has been a topic of public and policy discussion in recent years. Though chemistry and chemical engineering are used extensively in the hydraulic fracturing process, their roles are not well understood outside of the oil and gas industries. In a workshop held May 18-19, 2015 in Washington, DC, practitioners and experts in these fields came together to discuss shale gas and tight oil resource development.

At the workshop, audience members representing industry, academia, regulatory agencies, NGOs, and the general public participated in the plenary sessions and in a series of focused breakout sessions. Topics included industry drivers for resource development, social and economic impacts of the development, recent advances in technology and future research needs, and environmental concerns and impacts of the wells. The workshop opened with a plenary talk about the economic present and future of shale gas and tight oil resource development from Alan Krupnick, Co-Director of Resources for the Future’s Center for Energy and Climate Economics.

A workshop summary was prepared by workshop rapporteur Nancy Huddleston as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. At the start of each section, a number of key points are highlighted. These are drawn from the plenary sessions and the related breakout session reports. A summary of the discussions that occurred in the breakout sessions can be found at the end of this report. Though these sessions were structured around a set of guiding questions, the discussions among the participants often extended to address a number of related issues. In accordance with the policies of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the workshop did not attempt to establish any conclusions or recommendations about the needs or future directions for research and focused instead on the issues identified by the speakers and workshop participants.

Mesoscale Chemistry

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Advances in theoretical, computational, synthetic, and analytical techniques have supported the extension of research into the study and development of mesoscale structures and processes. Studies conducted at this size range, from 10nm to 10µm, have identified interesting ensemble effects that present both opportunities for developing new functionality of materials and understanding of biological systems and interfacial systems as well as challenges for analysis and description. This 1.5-day symposium focused on the research on chemical phenomena at the mesoscale, and participants were invited to actively participate in discussions responding to panels of speakers to identify opportunities and challenges in chemical and chemical engineering research at the mesoscale.

As a result of this workshop, a summary of the talks and the discussion has been published. Questions considered during the workshop included:

  • What is the current state of the art of research at the mesoscale in chemistry and chemical engineering?
  • What is the particular value to chemists and chemical engineers of studying and exploiting individual and collective behaviors at this scale?
  • What opportunities and challenges exist for research in this area?

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Technological Challenges in Antibiotic Discovery and Development

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Technological Challenges in Antibiotic Discovery and Development is the summary of a workshop convened by the Chemical Sciences Roundtable in September 2013 to explore the current state of antibiotic discovery and examine the technology available to facilitate development. Through formal presentations and panel discussions, participants from academia, industry, federal research agencies discussed the technical challenges present and the incentives and disincentives industry faces in antibiotic development, and identified novel approaches to antibiotic discovery.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious and growing problem in modern medicine and it is emerging as a pre-eminent public health threat. Each year in the United States alone, at least two million acquire serious infections with bacteria that are resistant to one or more antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die annually as a direct result of these antibiotic-resistant infections. In addition to the toll on human life, antibiotic-resistant infections add considerable and avoidable costs to the already overburdened U.S. health care system. This report explores the challenges in overcoming antibiotic resistance, screening for new antibiotics, and delivering them to the sites of infection in the body. The report also discusses a path forward to develop the next generation of potent antimicrobial compounds capable of once again tilting the battle against microbial pathogens in favor of humans. Technological Challenges in Antibiotic Discovery and Development gives a broad view of the landscape of antibiotic development and the technological challenges and barriers to be overcome.

Undergraduate Chemistry Education

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Undergraduate Chemistry Education is the summary of a workshop convened in May 2013 by the Chemical Science Roundtable of the National Research Council to explore the current state of undergraduate chemistry education. Research and innovation in undergraduate chemistry education has been done for many years, and one goal of this workshop was to assist in the transfer of lessons learned from the education research community to faculty members whose expertise lies in the field of chemistry rather than in education. Through formal presentations and panel discussions, participants from academia, industry, and funding organizations explored drivers of change in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education; innovations in chemistry education; and challenges and opportunities in chemistry education reform. Undergraduate Chemistry Education discusses large-scale innovations that are transferable, widely applicable, and/or proven successful, with specific consideration of drivers and metrics of change, barriers to implementation of changes, and examples of innovation in the classroom.

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Opportunities and Obstacles in Large-Scale Biomass Utilization: The Role of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Communities

Agenda | Workshop Report | Speaker Biographies


Based on a one-day public workshop held in Washington, DC, Opportunities and Obstacles in Large-Scale Biomass Utilization: The Role of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Communities: A Workshop Summary explores the current state of biomass utilization for bulk-production of sustainable fuels and chemicals. The discussion focused on the chemistry and chemical engineering opportunities to meet the aforementioned objectives. Both formal presentations and breakout working groups were components of the workshop in an effort to stimulate engaging discussion among participants from widely varying fields.