US panel recommends stricter regulations, better transparency on fracking shale gas

By Phaedra Friend Troy

The US Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Subcommittee, lead by Energy Secretary Steven Chu released a series of recommendations for increased regulations and public disclosure for hydraulic fracturing in shale gas developments.

Shale gas currently represents 30 percent of the natural gas production in the US, increasing drastically over the last decade. Nonetheless a negative public image for the hydraulic fracturing process that helps to develop the tight gas formations has threatened this emerging energy source.

The report was prepared by the Sec. of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee at the direction of President Barack Obama.

The subcommittee supports that increased oversight and transparency will help “all parties in shale gas production: regulators will have more complete and accurate information, industry will achieve more efficient operations, and the public will see continuous, measurable improvement in shale gas activities,” reads the report.

The subcommittee recommends increased regulations, improved environmental performance and thorough enforcement. Environmental improvements address air and water quality, pushing for a reduction in emissions and enhanced water management systems.

“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,” Subcommittee Chairman John Deutch 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 calls on the industry to form a Shale Gas Industry Operation organization to build best operating practices in shale gas development.

Additionally, the report instructs the federal government to improve research and development around environmental questions.

“Better data will help the industry focus its investments, give the public the information it needs to effectively engage, and help regulators identify and address the most important problems,” Deutch continued. “We’re issuing a call for industry action, but we are not leaving it to industry alone.”

America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) is cautiously optimistic about the subcommittee’s report.

“While we will continue to study the details of the report, we are particularly pleased with the recommendation to bolster the role of the multi-stakeholder group STRONGER and the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) to work within the state regulatory framework,” said Dan Whitten, ANGA vice president for strategic communications. “The report also reinforces ANGA’s prior commitment to disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids through the state-based GWPC registry, FracFocus.org.”

ANGA, GWPC and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission launched FracFocus, a chemical disclosure registry, on April 11, 2011. In addition to operator disclosure of the ingredients in hydraulic fracturing fluids and wells being drilled, the website is working to add GIS function to locate hydraulic fracturing operations across the US. 

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