UHLC alumna handles legal issues as UH team wins $10,000 energy challenge 

Judge Kent Jordan of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals argues for a more rational form of debate in U.S. politics in a talk at the University of Houston Law Center

As a member of the winning team in a statewide energy challenge, UHLC alumna Shanisha Smith will be taking the top prize money to the bank for student scholarships.

May 12, 2015 – A University of Houston Law Center alumna is part of a team that took top honors recently in a statewide competition to formulate the most creative and cost-effective way to recycle water used in hydraulic fracturing.

Shanisha Smith, who earned an LL.M. in the Law Center’s Environment, Energy & Natural Resources program in 2014, focused on the legal and regulatory requirements of the team’s winning proposal. UHLC Assistant Professor Zachary Bray, who teaches Natural Resources, Land Use, and Property law, served as a team adviser.

Other members of the UH team include Amin Kiaghadi and Rose Sobel, both Ph.D. candidates in environmental engineering, and Varun Sreenivas, an MBA student specializing in energy finance and the energy supply chain.

UH Law Center students Abhra Biswas, Phillip Harris, John Hwang, and Caite Tanner also participated in the competition during the year.   

The Texas Energy Innovation Challenge, held May 1 in Austin, is sponsored by Power Across Texas, a non-profit organization of academic, political, and private sector representatives dedicated to raising awareness of energy issues and policies in Texas.

As the first-place winner, the UH team, using the name GeoThermH2O, won $10,000 in scholarship funding. Each team comprised graduate students from engineering, business, and law. The other teams were from Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, UT-El Paso and Texas Tech University.

Hydraulic fracturing pumps sand, water, and chemicals at high pressure into wells to fracture dense rock formations and release oil and natural gas. Most energy companies dump the wastewater, which returns to the surface with the oil and gas, into disposal wells rather than incurring the expense of recycling or reusing it.

“Our research found that while membrane and distillation technologies provide the highest quality water treatment, both require huge amounts of energy, making treatment more expensive than disposal,” Smith explained.

“We proposed a closed loop system using a small volume of freshwater that would be recirculated in an abandoned or decommissioned well to power a desalination unit, capable of cleaning and recovering about 70 percent of the water,” she continued. “That treated water could become an inexpensive, drought-resistant source of water for agricultural and non-potable municipal use.”

Bray, the team’s legal mentor, praised the ingenuity and dedication of the students who spent long hours developing their project while engaged in rigorous graduate studies.

“As the contest judges recognized, Shanisha’s individual performance and the winning team’s collective presentation were outstanding,” he said, “but all of the law students involved in this project worked incredibly hard over many months with their teammates from other schools.

“I was impressed with their creativity and commitment, as were the other faculty mentors and the industry representatives who reviewed the projects and presentations.”

Other faculty advisers included Hanadi Rifai, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Radha Radhakrishnan, clinical assistant professor in decision and information sciences; and Konstantinos Kostarelos, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

In 2014, Smith interned with the Mexican National Hydrocarbons Commission through a program coordinated by UHLC’s Center for U.S. and Mexican Law. She earned her J.D. at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 2013 and will be clerking for U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks of the Southern District of Texas.

Back to the News Homepage