DOE notes water as key issue in deep shale gas primer

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 15 -- Protecting and conserving water resources will be the key challenge in developing domestic deep shale gas, the US Department of Energy said as it released a primer for regulators, policymakers, and the general public on Apr. 14.

The primer was designed to be an objective source of credible, factual information on the technology advances and challenges accompanying deep shale gas development, DOE's Fossil Energy Office said. Production of natural gas from hydrocarbon-rich deep shale formations is one of the fastest growing US energy activities, but much of it is occurring in areas with little or no oil and gas experience, it noted.

The DOE division said that it developed the primer with urging from the Ground Water Protection Council, a national association of state groundwater and underground injection agencies. The council will hold its 2009 spring meeting April 19-23 in Tucson in conjunction with the National Ground Water Association's groundwater summit.

DOE said that it recognized the need for a report that addresses questions about the nature of shale gas development, potential environmental impacts, and the ability of current regulatory structures to deal with the resource's development.

Improved horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies have played a key part in shale gas production's emergence as a major new domestic energy source, it continued. This has enabled producers to recover more gas economically and with less surface disturbance from deep shale formations, it said.

The primer's publication comes at an important time, according to the Independent Petroleum Association of America. It shows that the current state-federal hydraulic fracturing regulatory partnership is working despite suggestions from some members of Congress that the US Environmental Protection Agency should take over enforcement, said IPAA President Barry Russell on Apr. 14.

"For energy resources that were once considered too deep to find, too expensive to produce, in rock too hard to access, this report from [DOE] shows just how far America's independent natural gas producers have come in converting the potential of shale into the reality of clean-burning American energy," he maintained.

"More than that, though, the report underscores the lengths to which these businesses and state regulatory officials go every day to ensure that the energy development process is as safe, efficient, and transparent as possible," Russell said.

The primer is available online at www.fossil.energy.gov.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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