Energy Department Panel Concludes Fracking Requires 'Strong Regulation'

Subcommittee says potential leaks into water supplies are remote but require preventive measures.

The use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale rock could cause "serious environmental impacts" without proper regulatory oversight, an Energy Department subcommittee concluded in a draft report released Aug. 11.

"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," the subcommittee says. "Effective action requires both strong regulation and a shale-gas industry in which all participating companies are committed to continuous improvement."

Although the risk of fracturing fluids leaking into water sources is remote, the companies involved in hydraulic fracturing should disclose all chemicals in fracturing fluids, excluding proprietary information, the subcommittee says.

The draft report was part of an order by President Obama in March to form an Energy Department subcommittee to make recommendations regarding shale-gas production safety. The subcommittee will publish a second report in another 90 days.

In addition to full chemical disclosure, the subcommittee requests the creation of a national database that provides public access to all hydraulic fracturing data. The subcommittee estimates the database would initially cost approximately $20 million to construct and $5 million annually to maintain it.

Other recommendations include:

  • Adoption of standards to reduce emissions from the hydraulic fracturing process
  • A federal agency effort to acquire data and analyze the greenhouse-gas footprint of shale gas operations through the lifecycle of natural gas use and compare it to other fuels
  • A water-management standard that requires companies to report water transfers among different locations and provide recommendations about well development and construction best practices
  • Additional field studies on methane leakage from hydrofractured wells to water reservoirs
  • Requiring measurement of existing methane levels in nearby water wells prior to drilling
  • Creation of a national organization focused on continuous improvement and industry best practices
  • Research and development funding to improve safety and environmental performance

"Disclosure of data permits regulators to identify cost/effective regulatory measures that better protect the environment and public safety, and disclosure gives the public a way to measure progress on reducing risks," the subcommittee said in its report.

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