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Restore GWPC, Stronger's federal funding, shale gas panel urges

US Congress should promptly restore federal funding for the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (Stronger), the US Energy Secretary Advisory Board’s Shale Gas Subcommittee urged on Nov. 21. The two organizations should receive $5 million/year to update hydraulic fracturing and well construction guidelines, and develop guidelines for water supply, air emissions, and cumulative impacts, it said in its final report.

It said the US Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency should also consider making grants to states that voluntarily have Stronger peer-review their regulations and practices as an incentive to undergo update reviews and implement recommended actions.

The funding would be for fiscal 2012 and not be ongoing, it added. The report said the support would allow GWPC “to extend and expand its risk-based data management system (RBDMS), which helps states collect and publicly share data associated with their oil and gas regulatory programs—for example, sampling and monitoring programs for surface waters, water wells, sediments and isotopic activity in and around areas of shale gas operations.”

The money also could help integrate the RBDMS into a national data portal which would help improve public information about shale gas operations, the report indicated. It said that the funding also would help GWPC upgrade FracFocus, its fracturing fluid chemical database registry, so that information could be searched, sorted, and aggregated by chemical, by well, by company, and by geography as the subcommittee recommended in its 90-day report.

GWPC and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission established FracFocus on Apr. 11 with DOE funding. It provides public access to reported chemicals used in fracing within geographic areas, according to the voluntary chemical registry’s web site. It said it also provides objective information about fracing, chemicals that are used, their purposes, and the means used to protect groundwater supplies.

‘Second-to-none’

Industry groups responded quickly to the final report’s recommendations. “Our industry's commitment to ensuring that our environment is protected is second-to-none, and we continue to work closely with state regulators to advance common sense efforts aimed at responsibly developing clean-burning American natural gas,” a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition told OGJ in a Nov. 21 e-mail.

American Gas Association Pres. Dave McCurdy said the trade association for natural gas utilities agrees with the final report’s conclusion that “a transparent and respectful dialogue and effective state regulations are critical in keeping the public’s trust in our industry’s continued access to the vast supply of domestic natural gas.” AGA also agrees with the report’s recommendation that companies quickly and visibly commit to best practices and establish regional centers for operational excellence, he added.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance applauded the subcommittee’s acknowledgement of shale gas’s importance to the US economic, environmental, and energy future; and its support for bolstering STRONGER and GWPC’s roles. “However, we must take issue with certain language used by the subcommittee as it pertains to industry development practices,” continued Dan Whitten, ANGA’s vice-president for strategic communications.

“We are highly committed to the safe and responsible development of this vital asset and to continuously pursuing innovations that can further advance these principles,” he said. “Producers are publicly disclosing on a well-by-well basis, information on the hydraulic fracturing process through the state-led FracFocus registry. We have embraced and continue to embrace cutting edge technological innovations from fluid recycling to air and water monitoring systems and water containment barriers.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.


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