Thursday, August 11, 2011

Statement About DOE Shale Gas Advisory Report

The Report of Shale Gas Advisory Board to the Secretary of Energy provides a detailed roadmap for producing responsibly and with the least possible environmental impact America's enormous shale gas reserves. The Report poses a challenge to both the gas industry and to environmental organizations, because it identifies the real issues of concern and solutions to those concerns. This Report does not duck or dodge.

Now it will be interesting to see which companies and organizations rise to the constructive challenges contained in this Report.

The Report zeroes in on the Air Quality challenge posed by large scale production and recommends that existing best practices and technologies be used to reduce air pollutants, ozone precursors, and methane leakage. It specifically endorses the July 28th proposed EPA and Wyoming air regulations as good starting points but urges further steps. The Report urges greater measurement of air emissions and calls for a subset of producers to step forward to begin comprehensive measurement and data collection.

I would also have liked to see the Report describe the significant air quality benefits natural gas could provide by using natural gas to replace old, coal-fired power plants and diesel in large transportation fleets. But the Report is 41 pages and had to be surgical, not encyclopedic, if it were to be effective.

The Report wades into the lifecycle carbon controversy by referencing some of the studies done to date and then calling for a major, definitive federally funded research effort. The Report also calls for the near ban of venting methane at gas wells. If the Report's air recommendations are followed the carbon footprint of shale gas will be cut sharply.

In addition to Air issues, the Report has a section on water issues calling for the measurement and reporting of the composition and flow of flowback and produced water; the manifesting of water transfers; and significant measures to insure the integrity of well completion to prevent especially gas migration to private water wells.

The Report properly identifies gas migration caused by poorly designed or constructed gas wells to be a real issue that the industry and regulators must address strongly. Pressure testing of cemented casing and state-of-the-art bond logs to confirm gas formation isolation are recommended, as are microseismic surveys to assure hydraulic fracture growth is limited.

The Report calls for federal funding for STRONGER and the Ground Water Protection Council at $5 million each starting in FY 2012. The Report gently chides states for not using sufficiently STRONGER'S services to review state regulatory programs. The Pennsylvania gas oversight program was reviewed by STRONGER in 2010.

A vital part of the report is the discussion of best practices and the formation of a new national organization that would be governed by a diverse board of directors to drive forward best practice development and adoption. The Report specifically recommends that the board of this organization be not only gas industry companies but instead include non-governmental organizations, academics, as well as companies within the gas industry. This recommendation is crucial and will challenge each company in the industry.

The Report further calls for banning of diesel in hydraulic fracturing and for full disclosure of chemicals used in the process.

As the Report notes, shale gas is now providing 30% of all US natural gas supply; has made the US self sufficient in natural gas, when as recently as 2007 most thought the US would be importing large quantities of LNG; and will provide at least 45% of US gas supply by 2035. The incredible boom in shale gas has created nationally 200,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs.

All forms of natural gas provides 25% of total US energy. Shale gas and natural gas are vital to the US economy and environment.

This Report provides a detailed map for how America can maximize the benefits of shale gas and minimize its impacts. It will powerfully impact public expectations for what constitutes responsible regulation and operation of shale gas. It constructively challenges us all.


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful posting on this report. As someone who lives in an area that is rapidly being surrounded by well pads, I am very concerned about the air impacts from compressor stations and the like. Friends of mine in other areas have been having some pretty bad problems from living too close to fumes coming from these stations. I certainly recognize the economic interests involved in this industry, but I am asking you respectfully to please, from your place of in-depth knowledge on the environmental impacts of the industry, please advocate for very strong air pollution controls on the drilling and processing facilities. There is no need for people to be put at risk, especially when, as I understand it, technologies are already available to dramatically reduce or eliminate entirely the toxic emissions from these facilities.

    Thank you very much for your concern and support.

  2. Hooray!

    Finally a concise and honest evaluation of risks with suggestions to minimize those risks. It's too bad this report was a reaction instead of a proactive initiative. Better late than never.

    I feel like it is objective (because I agree with it, and I consider myself relatively objective). I think it is telling that John Deutch has ties to oil and gas, yet he still champions these recommendations. What is good for the public is also good for oil and gas in the long term; ie being environmentally aware and proactive by minimizing impacts now equates to better and more profitable operations in the future, not to mention more public trust and less opposition.

    Thanks for the great coverage John.


  3. Also...
    I think it is really telling that the group that is supposed to update standards and raise the bar for performance is the same group that constantly lobbies against stronger oversight. They are paid lobbyist, yet they are supposed to create best practice? Doesn't make sense. I have personally met the folks at API. Their attitude is "We are already doing enough; stay out of our way;" meanwhile, the biggest threat to human health is complacency (consider the BP blowout). Complacency is the number one challenge for oil and gas regulators world wide, in my opinion.

    “Either way, DOE’s recommendations should be informed by an understanding, first, that shale oil and gas development is *already well regulated and safe* and, second, that it *could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, generate billions of dollars in additional revenue for our government*, and enhance our energy security,” said API’s director of upstream operations, Erik Milito.

    Doesn't sound like someone I would trust to ensure compliance and to create best practice.


  4. Good study addressing all of the ACTUAL concerns. I'm impressed. Was expecting a little more fluff and a little less teeth, but it looks like DOE really hit the nail on the head. I'm anxious to see what their 120 day report.

    I was also very pleased to see that many of the recommendations seem to be based on the solid regulation that we are already enjoying here in Pennsylvania, due in no small part to the work of Mr. Hanger.