WASHINGTON – The final shale gas subcommittee report reflecting how the industry and state regulators complied with recommendations is due in 90 days,but environmental groups are doubtful about progress.
Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu commissioned the report,which contains roughly 24 recommendations to reduce the environmental impacts of shale gas extraction,commonly called hydraulic fracking.
Stephen Holditch,a professor of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M and one of seven subcommittee members,said the second and final report is supposed to serve as a “report card” on how the recommendations were applied.
However,the scope and depth of the initial report have been criticized since its Aug. 11 release,casting doubt on whether the recommendations will have a real impact.
“We’re not holding our breath,” Leeann Brown,spokeswoman for the Environmental Working Group, said. “With such a short window of time,there are only so many changes we can expect to see.”
The recommendations call for more transparency and improved water quality and air emissions standards.
“The basic message underlying our report is the following: measure,disclose the results of the measurements and show that over time there is an improvement in the environmental impact of shale gas production,” subcommittee Chair John Deutch,a former CIA director and assistant secretary of defense,said.
Brown said the industry has yet to come through with the transparency people have asked for and has consistently balked at even basic state regulation.
Speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies,Deutch focused on information-sharing recommendations as the way to win the community’s confidence.
However,Brown said that,as long as industry fights regulations based on community concern,there won’t be a reason for communities to trust oil and gas companies.
The subcommittee was not authorized to make regulatory decisions,but the Environmental Working Group said regulatory recommendations would have been appropriate.
Hydraulic fracturing is exempt from seven environmental laws,including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act,and Brown said that needs to change.
“So long as this arm of the industry is exempt,this industry is not required to protect the water,protect the air,protect the communities where it’s involved,” she said. “We think that’s a major flaw.”
Industry wasn’t satisfied with the report either.
Ken Cohen,ExxonMobil Corp. vice president of public and government affairs,issued a statement that questioned the strength of the report.
“We share the report’s views about the employment,economic and energy security benefits shale gas development is providing for the nation. And we agree with the core conclusion that development can occur in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” Cohen said.
Because the subcommittee had only 90-days to write its report,Cohen said,“The panel did not have a fair chance to examine carefully the concerns or challenge some of the assumptions about hydraulic fracturing that derive from emotional appeals rather than operational realities.”
The industry maintains that it is already satisfying the report’s recommendations.
State governments,another target of the report,are only considering the report after their own commissions and departments make recommendations.
“I’m sure whatever’s in that report,policy makers will take into consideration,” Chad Saylor,deputy chief of staff of the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission,said. “This is all at the state level from our standpoint.”
New York and Ohio representatives said their departments reviewed the report for consistency.
Reach reporter Hope Rurik at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.