I am Ryan McCarville, and I am a student at the Florida State University College of Law. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Hannah Wiseman and ask her about how she got started working in the area of environmental law, about her research related to hydraulic fracturing, and what advice she might have for current and prospective law students interested in studying environmental law.
Ryan McCarville: Can you give us a little background on your legal education, and research interests? How did you first get started with environmental issues?
Professor Hannah Wiseman: Ever since I was in elementary school I have been interested in environmental issues. I went to Dartmouth College and majored in Environmental Studies and Comparative Government. From there I became an environmental consultant in Washington, D.C. for a couple of years and then went to Yale Law School, where I took a lot of environmental classes. I became very interested in the environmental aspects of energy in my jobs in Texas. I first worked for a federal judge in the 5th Circuit in Texas, and then became a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It was there when I began to see the connections between energy and environmental law, because there were a lot of oil and gas developments, as well as wind energy developments. That was my first teaching job in Texas, and then I became a professor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I had my students write a model wind energy code. Then I came to Florida State where I teach land use law, renewable energy law, environmental law, and occasionally, hydraulic fracturing law.
Ryan McCarville: You mentioned hydraulic fracturing. When did you first find that you were interested in this specific area of the law?
Professor Hannah Wiseman: I became interested in hydraulic fracturing in 2008, in Texas, when the Texas Supreme Court had a case which dealt with all the issues that interest me. This case was about when a person drills into the ground and hydraulically fractures the ground of someone else’s property, takes their natural gas, and whether that is a trespass or not. For me, that raised issues of land use, energy, property, as well as environmental concerns. The court on the one hand wanted to support energy development, as well as the rights of neighboring land owners who might not want their land being drilled, as well as the environmental consequences involved with this process. This case made me realize that this particular issue was at the center of all my interests. After the case, I spoke to the attorney that represented the neighboring landowners whose ground was being drilled. After speaking with him about his experience, I started looking at this issue around the country, and I realized that it was going to be big at the national level. In 2008, not many people had noticed that beyond the Texas Supreme Court. But looking around, in places like Pennsylvania, the technique had been used quite commonly, as well as North Dakota and Montana, but no one was really talking about it. Since then I have been writing about it, attending conferences, and talking to state regulators. The topic has completely captured my interest.
Ryan McCarville: What does the state of hydraulic fracturing look like now? Where do you see it going in the next 5, 10, or 20 years?
Professor Hannah Wiseman: By 2011, people had been talking more and more about hydraulic fracturing. At that point, the type of hydraulic fracturing that has allowed the energy boom that people have enjoyed around the U.S. was happening in states like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, lots of states. More people were paying attention. The current status is that it is very common in this country. About 11,000 new wells are being drilled every year. There will be more than 70,000 new wells fractured in coming years and it has changed our country’s economy. I don’t see this ebbing. I think we will continue to see the expansion of this technique, maybe even in Florida. It will continue to raise environmental and social issues, positive and negative, and we will need lawyers to address these issues. There are more and more lawsuits about leasing issues, about property rights issues, and questions of potential contamination. There are many new environmental compliance jobs in this area.
Ryan McCarville: What sort of advice would you give to a student that is thinking about attending law school with the goal of pursuing a career in environmental law?
Professor Hannah Wiseman: I would look at the faculty, the specific experience of the faculty, as well as how involved the faculty is in local and national issues. You know, the rankings are a good proxy of our quality, but it is important to look past it. It is important to look at the range of experience by the faculty. For example, Shi-Ling Hsu is an economist, as well as climate change policy expert, and David Markell previously worked at the EPA, at a state environmental agency, as well as in Canada working on cross-border issues. So, look at the experience of the faculty, and the jobs they have held. The student activities are also very good to look at. At Florida State University, we have a great environmental certificate program, as well as a clinical externship program where students can receive wonderful on the job training and experience. The opportunity is unique to this town. We have externships with renewable energy developers, as well as agencies around Tallahassee which focus in environmental issues.
Ryan McCarville: In your opinion, why is Florida State University such a great place to study environmental law?
Professor Hannah Wiseman: Florida State University College of Law attracts both professors and students who are committed to the issues, who know a lot about the issues, and if they don’t – they will soon! It is a community of people with similar interests and similar concerns. For example, how much oil and gas development, or how much energy develop should we have? Being in the capital of Florida, we can continue to learn more and use our knowledge because environmental issues come up all the time, especially in the state agencies and the legislature. I think expertise and the interest feeds on itself and creates a community of learning that I do not find at other law schools.