Shale gas subcommittee reviews industry, government progress

The US natural gas industry is working to ensure shale gas is produced in an environmentally safe manner and is working to disclose information that can help minimize public opposition toward shale development, an advisory committee to government said.

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Subcommittee on Shale Gas Production (SEAB) issued its second 90-day report on Nov. 10. It reviewed progress made on 20 recommendations the subcommittee outlined in its Aug. 18 initial report.

The subcommittee said in a Nov. 10 news release that it was "gratified by the actions taken to date," but added that "the progress to date is less than what the subcommittee hoped."

Separately, the American Petroleum Institute reported “many positive activities undertaken by industry and the state regulatory authorities.” API issued its own 10-page update regarding how industry has responded to the subcommittee’s recommendations.

John Deutch, subcommittee chairman and an MIT professor, called shale gas “one of the biggest energy innovations, if not the biggest, in several decades. …But to ensure the full benefits to the American people, environmental issues need to be addressed now, especially in term of waste water, air quality, and community impact.”

The subcommittee said a loss of public confidence could delay or stop anticipated expansion of shale gas production expected across the US. Some have forecast the drilling of 100,000 shale gas wells over the next several decades.

Shale gas production already accounts for about 30% of US gas production. Sec. of Energy Steven Chu convened SEAB at the direction of President Barack Obama. The second 90-day report will be forwarded to Chu following a public comment period. SEAB plans to review the public comments Nov. 14.

The two reports reflect 6 months of deliberations among a group of industry experts, environmental advocates, academics, and former state regulators.

Industry’s progress outlined

In its second report, the subcommittee noted operating companies are considering ways to measure and disclose air emissions from shale gas wells. Discussions are under way regarding specific information collection, appropriate instrumentation, and subsequent analysis and disclosure.

The subcommittee recommended independent technical review of the methodology for measuring air emissions.

API said it’s interacting with the US Environmental Protection Agency on efforts to compile a more robust basis for emissions estimation methods for shale gas as part of a broader national greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Department of Interior announced Oct. 31 that it intends to require disclosure of the chemicals within hydraulic fracturing fluid used on federal land. DOI agrees with the subcommittee’s recommendations that disclosure should include all chemicals.

DOI also agrees with the subcommittee that chemicals should be reported on a well-by-well basis on a publicly available and searchable web site that can aggregate information.

“The Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission have taken an important step in announcing their intent to require disclosure of all chemicals by operators who utilize their voluntary chemical disclosure registry, FracFocus,” the subcommittee noted.

API noted that since FracFocus launched its web site in April, some 50 operators added information about more than 5,543 wells. That nearly doubles the volume of information that was reported to the subcommittee in July, API said.

“This site does more than just serve as a repository for disclosure data,” API said. “It also provides a wide array of reference materials from federal, state, and independent sources.”

Calling FracFocus a platform to address public concerns, API said industry continues to work with the GWPC and IOGCC to discuss expanding the platform’s capabilities and develop a more sophisticated site.

Several states, including Texas, Louisiana, and Montana, have incorporated the use of FracFocus in recent legislative and regulatory initiatives.

One subcommittee recommendation advocated the federal government support research and development efforts on shale gas. The Office of Management and Budget is in discussion with the DOI, DOE, EPA, and the US Geological Survey about unconventional gas R&D.

“As yet, there has been no agreement with OMB on the scale and composition of a continuing unconventional gas R&D program,” the subcommittee said in its latest report. “Failure to provide adequate funding for R&D would be deleterious and undermine achieving the policy objectives articulated by the president.”

API said it shares the subcommittee’s belief that industry and various levels of government must work together to develop shale gas in sustainable ways.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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