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.