Friday, June 3, 2011

Advising the Shale Gas Commission

At the Shale Gas Commission meeting in DC yesterday (more formally the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board's Natural Gas Subcommittee), there were several comments made that the concerns that have been voiced about gas drilling are ideologically motivated attacks on fossil fuels.  The point was made by non-Commission members that some believe our power should come exclusively from solar, wind, renewables, and the proponents of this view are attacking gas drilling to advance this goal.  This description of what is driving public concerns about drilling is partially correct but also significantly incomplete and erroneous.

Many of the concerns about drilling are not rooted in ideology.  They are rooted in real impacts--small and big.  They are rooted in real problems like road damage and gas migration that has contaminated a comparatively small number of private water wells. They are rooted in anger about no drilling tax in Pennsylvania.

It is also true that  many media stories have been wrong and exaggeratedly sensational and have had the impact of creating unfounded fears and concerns.  It is also the case that good news such as the water testing results that show no radionuclide contamination get little space while the suggestion that drilling could cause radionuclide contamination is front page above the fold news.

Correcting the record is vital and never complete.  That is true unfortunately.

But it would be a huge mistake to dismiss the real issues as a combination of ideological attack and false, sensational media narrative. 

The public interest requires focus on real problems and full explanation of what are not real problems.  Yesterday in the afternoon there was a lot of discussion about managing drilling wastewater; gas migration and the Duke University study; creating organizations to spur industry improvement; and some talk unfortunately about the NYT February 27th story.

Chairman Deutch and the members of the Commission were a model of good government yesterday: asking questions, listening, and pushing to identify real issues and their roots.  I am hopeful that the Commission can help move forward responsible, safer shale gas development.

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