Federal Fracking Report Fails to Ease Environmental FearsAug 12, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
A federal panel says hydraulic fracturing can be done safely if certain safeguards, such as full disclosure of fracking chemicals and air and water quality monitoring, are put in place. The panel’s report, however, is being greeted with skepticism by environmentalists, and seems to have done little to ease their concerns about this form of natural gas drilling.
The Shale Gas Production Subcommittee was convened by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu earlier this year It was directed by President Obama to study fracking, a controversial method of oil and natural gas extraction that involves the injection of a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits.
A report released by the panel on Thursday endorsed fracking for natural gas as a way to meet U.S. energy needs, but at the same time acknowledged that there are concerns with the drilling method, including: methane and chemical pollution of groundwater; air pollution; disruption of communities; and cumulative impacts on the environment
"To say that there are not serious environmental impacts is not sustainable. When you realize we may have several thousand such wells drilled in the U.S. over the next 20 years, it’s important to get this right.” John Deutch, chair of the subcommittee, told The Wall Street Journal.
The report recommends actions that it purports will allow fracking to be done safely, including:
• stronger air quality regulations,
• disclosure of air pollutants and the types of chemicals used in the process,
• a study of water quality issues,
• the creation of industry best practices,
• more public education to help people understand the process.
The panel envisions a combination of industry cooperation and some beefed up federal regulations to make all that happen. However, it did not recommend any specific regulations.
The energy industry is using the report as an excuse to dismiss environmentalists' reservations about fracking. For their part, environmentalists aren't impressed with the report.
An official with the Environmental Working Group told The Wall Street Journal that the report fell short of what it felt was needed. In the past, the group criticized the panel's seven members as having too-close ties to the energy industry. In particular, they expressed qualms that Deutch served on the board at Cheniere Energy Inc. and previously on the board at Schlumberger Ltd., which is active in fracking.
Others are worried that the panel’s seeming endorsement of fracking will undercut results of a major study of its impact by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due next year, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
“The committee appears to be performing advocacy-based science and seems to have already concluded that hydraulic fracturing is safe,” scientists at 22 universities in 13 states said in a letter sent to Energy Secretary Chu one day before the report’s release. “We believe that the best science should be done first to determine whether increased unconventional natural gas production is sufficiently safe – from the individual water well to climate impact and that policy should follow.”