DOE advisory board releases shale gas recommendations
A subcommittee of an advisory board for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is recommending several new regulations for the natural gas industry, including requiring full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as "fracking," is the process of pumping chemicals into shale deposits to drive natural gas to the surface, and officials in several states have expressed concern over possible contamination of ground water by the process.
The recommendations, released Aug. 11 by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee, call for increased measurement, public disclosure and a commitment to continuous improvement in the development and environmental management of shale gas, according to a DOE press release. Specifically, the report includes recommendations in four areas:
• The identity of all chemicals used in "fracking" fluids should be fully disclosed. While finding that the risk of leakage of fracturing fluids through fractures made in deep shale reserves is remote where there is large separation from drinking water, the report finds that there is no economic or technical reason to prevent public disclosure of all chemicals used in fracturing fluids. It also calls for the creation of a national database of all public information made about shale gas to permit easier access by all interested parties.
• Measures should be taken to reduce emission of air pollutants, ozone precursors and methane as quickly as practicable, and standards to reduce emissions of all air contaminants should be adopted promptly. The subcommittee recommends the design and rapid implementation of measurement systems to collect comprehensive methane and other air emissions data from shale gas operations, and that a federal interagency planning effort be launched immediately to analyze the overall greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas operations.
• The report urges the adoption of a systemic approach to water management based on consistent measurement and public disclosure. Agencies should review and modernize their rules to ensure they are fully protective of both groundwater and surface water, according to the report. Also, the subcommittee recommends additional field studies on methane leakage from hydrofractured wells to water reservoirs and the adoption of requirements for background water quality measurements to record existing methane levels in nearby water wells before drilling.
• A Shale Gas Industry Operation organization should be created to ensure the continuous improvement of best operating practices and more systemic approach by the shale gas industry.
• Research and development should be conducted by companies and the federal government to improve safety and environmental performance in the industry.
The subcommittee was convened by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at the direction of President Obama to produce a report on the immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas development. The report is the result of three months of deliberations among a group of industry experts, environmental advocates, academics and former state regulators.
"As shale gas [drilling, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of natural gas production in the United States,] grows and becomes an increasingly important part of our nation's energy supply, it is crucial to bring a better understanding of the environmental impacts — both current and potential — and ensure that they are properly addressed," subcommittee Chairman John Deutch said in a statement.
Last year, New York placed a moratorium on fracking, but the state is now considering a new process to use on private land not in certain watersheds or on underground aquifers, according to the its Department of Environmental Conservation. Other states are slowly ramping up their own fracking rules — including Colorado, which amended its regulations in late 2008, and Pennsylvania, which is exploring new enforcements. Fracking is suspected of polluting groundwater in Wyoming, Texas and other states as well, according to the Sheridan, Wyo.-based Powder River Basin Resource Council conservation group.