Shale gas report calls for public disclosure, water use management

An Energy Department advisory board looking into shale gas production recommended more public disclosure, improvements in environmental quality and the creation of a central organization to focus on best practices in U.S. shale gas development.

The recommendations follow Energy Secretary Stephen Chu’s May 5 directive tasking the group with producing a report on immediate and long-term steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas development. The draft 90-day report also calls for industry leadership in improving environmental performance, underpinned by strong regulations and enforcement, evolving to meet the identified changes.

“As shale gas 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,” John Deutch, chairman of the Natural Gas Subcommittee said. “The current output of shale gas and its potential for future growth emphasize the need to assure that this supply is produced in an environmentally sound fashion, and in a way that meets the needs of public trust."

The report’s recommendations cover four areas:
1.      Making information about shale gas production operations more accessible to the public, including full disclosure of all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. The report said no economic or technical reason exists to prevent disclosing all chemicals. It also called for creating a national database of all public information about shale gas and government funding for existing multi-stakeholder mechanisms such as the non-profit Ground Water Protection Council’s Risk Based Data Management System and the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulation.
2.      Pursuing measures to reduce “as quickly as practicable” emissions of air pollutants, ozone precursors and methane. The report also recommended that a federal interagency planning effort be launched to acquire data and analyze the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas operations throughout the lifecycle of natural gas use, and compare it to other fuels. The report urged adoption of a systemic approach to water management based on consistent measurement and public disclosure. The report also recommend field studies on methane leakage from hydrofractured wells to water reservoirs and adopting requirements for background water quality measurements to record existing methane levels in nearby wells prior to drilling.
3.      Creating a shale gas industry operation organization with external stakeholders and dedicated to continuous improvement of best practice through the development and sharing of standards and the assessment of member compliance.
4.      Commissioning research and development to improve safety and environmental performance. The report said that while the majority of shale gas R&D will be done by the oil and gas industry, there is a role for the federal government.

“We are mindful of the nation’s financial constraints,” Deutch said. “But we do see a key role that can be played by modest government support for R&D around environmental questions."

The report recommended that the Obama Administration set an appropriate mission for shale gas R&D and level funding, with a particular focus on water use efficiency and other improvements to enhance environmental objectives.

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