SEAB Finds States Should Continue to Lead on Hydraulic Fracturing

Key advisory board acknowledges important progress made by industry and local officials with respect to the safe development of shale gas.

Last week the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee released its draft final report on hydraulic fracturing, a report that confirms many of the realities of shale gas development: states are effectively regulating the industry, including hydraulic fracturing; industry is committed to best practices and reducing impacts; and – as we here at EID have noted on numerous occasions – shale gas is an important source of American energy.

But if you caught any of the news about the release of the report, you’d likely be convinced that the sky is falling and the environment is being ruined beyond repair. Take, for example, this excerpt from a Reuters piece entitled, “US faces shale gas backlash without action – panel”:

A federal energy panel on Thursday warned that rigorous action must be taken if government and industry hope to prevent major environmental damage and subdue the public backlash against the U.S. shale gas boom. Charged with helping guide the future of U.S. shale gas development, the Energy Department subcommittee expressed disappointment that more had not been done on the 20 recommendations laid out in August in its initial report on the practice. (emphasis added)

The Wheeling News-Register piled on by stating that shale gas development could “significantly damage the environment unless companies reduce their impacts.” The Columbus Dispatch declared in its headline, “Fracking safeguards not followed.” Yikes.

To be fair, the Subcommittee did express concerns about what it considers gaps in current regulations.

Moving past the media hype, here are just a few examples of what the Subcommittee actually says about the industry, hydraulic fracturing, and the numerous examples of environmental mitigation already taking place:

  • “The Subcommittee is mindful that state and federal regulators and companies are already deeply involved in environmental management.” (p. 2 )
  • “Two existing non-profit organizations – the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STONGER) and the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) are two existing organizations that work to share information to improve the quality of regulatory policy and practice in the states.” (p. 3 )
  • “The Subcommittee has recommended that $5 million per year would provide the resources to STRONGER and the GWCPC needed to strengthen and broaden its activities as discussed in the Subcommittees previous report, for example, updating hydraulic fracturing guidelines and well construction guidelines, and developing guidelines for water supply, air emissions and cumulative impacts.” (p. 3 )
  • Federal funding “would also allow GWPC to upgrade its fracturing fluid chemical disclosure registry, Frac Focus, so that information can be searched, sorted and aggregated by chemical, by well, by company and by geography – as recommended by the Subcommittee in its 90-Day report.” (p. 5 )
  • “The Subcommittee recognized the need for protection of legitimate trade secrets.” (p. 6 )
  • “The Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission have taken an important step in announcing their intent to require disclosure of all chemicals by operators who utilize their voluntary chemical disclosure registry, FracFocus.” (p. 6 )
  • Shale gas is “arguably the country’s most important domestic energy resource.” (p. 6 )
  • State and local governments should take the lead in experimenting with different mechanisms for engaging these issues [community concerns and local impacts] in a constructive way, seeking to be beyond discussion to practical mitigation.” (p. 8 )
  • “Industry has always been interested in best practices.” (p. 9 )
  • “Industry is taking a regional approach to best practice, building on local organizations, such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Shale companies understand the importance of involving non-industry stakeholders in their efforts and are beginning to take initiatives that engage the public in a meaningful way.” (p. 9 )
  • “Industry is showing increased interest in engineering practice as indicated by the recent workshop on hydraulic fracturing sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute on October 4 and 5, 2011 in Pittsburg, PA.” (p. 9 )

What’s the upshot? Far from causing “major environmental damage,” the industry is already leading the way on developing best practices, reducing impacts, and working with non-profit organizations to expand community outreach. The website is receiving well-deserved attention as just one component of the industry’s commitment to transparency, and the SEAB’s recognition of the need to protect proprietary information is an equally important conclusion. Organizations like STRONGER and the GWPC not only receive positive marks, but the SEAB also believes these organizations are doing such an effective job that they should be encouraged to expand.

And finally, the SEAB essentially confirms that state and local governments should continue to take the lead on regulating the industry, which as we all know has an impeccable record of protecting the environment while also allowing robust and responsible development.

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