A recent report from the Department of Energy’s Shale Gas Subcommittee calls for more transparency, more accountability, and better environmental protections for production of natural gas that involves hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”
The fracking report had recommendations to better protect the environment from all aspects of producing natural gas from shale and other “unconventional” deposits, not just “fracking,” which is only part of the entire process.
The report acknowledges that natural gas will be a fuel source for America for decades to come, but also cautioned that “if effective environmental action is not taken today, the potential environmental consequences will grow to a point that the country will be faced a more serious problem. Effective action requires both strong regulation and a shale gas industry in which all participating companies are committed to continuous improvement.” However, the report did not say who – the federal government or the state – should regulate the industry.
The report also addressed one of the biggest issues facing shale gas and fracking – the threat that “fracking fluid” (a slurry of water, sand, and a host of sometimes toxic and carcinogenic chemicals) poses to water supplies and quality across the US. The exact composition of fracking fluid varies from company to company, and project to project, but the contents are rarely publicly disclosed. The DOE report calls for “immediate and complete disclosure of all chemical components and composition of fracturing fluid,” citing that public safety ‘outweighs the restriction on company action, the cost of reporting, and any intellectual property value of proprietary chemicals.” Presently, fracking fluid disclosure laws vary from state to state. The report also recommended that the full “life cycle” of water used in fracking operations be closely monitored and regulated to prevent contamination of water quality.
The subcommittee also called for emissions standards from the production sites to ensure that local communities aren’t saddled with toxic air from gas wells. Air quality issues have plagued some towns near production facilities, with ozone levels being far above healthy levels.
The report also noted that “unique and/or sensitive areas” should be off-limits to drilling, a recommendation made to the committee by The Wilderness Society.
This report is a milestone in the evolving natural gas debate. The Wilderness Society continues to support natural gas production that is done right, and will update on any progress that the DOE report has on fracking and natural gas production nationwide.