RFF: Experts generally agree on shale gas development risks

Experts from the oil and gas industry, government, academia, and environmental and other non-government organizations agree on key risks of shale gas development activity, a research group said.

Resources for the Future on Feb. 7 issued a report based on responses from 75 oil and gas representatives; 63 at universities and think tanks; 42 federal, state, and regional government entities; and 35 environmental and other NGOs, said Alan Krupnik, RFF’s Center for Energy Economics and Policy director.

“We found a remarkable overlap for the most frequently cited risks by experts from different perspectives,” he said during a webcast on the report, Pathways to Dialogue: What the Experts Say about the Environmental Risks of Shale Gas Development.

“In fact, if we look at the 20 most frequently cited risks, 12 are common to all the groups,” Krupnik said.

The survey asked the 215 experts to choose among 264 possible risk pathways that link routine shale gas development activities.

The experts identified high-priority risks, defined as those for which they believe government regulation or voluntary industry practices are inadequate.

 

Specific trends

Surface waters dominated in risk categories more than groundwater, survey results showed.

“Only two pathways are unique to the shale gas development process: the storage of fracing fluids onsite before they’re used and after they flow back,” Krupnik said.

Other risks related to construction of roads, well pads, and pipelines, and the potential for leaks in casing and cementing.

Of the 12 consensus risk pathways, seven involved potential risks to surface water, six involved potential air quality risks, two involved potential groundwater risks, and one involved habitat disruption.

“All groups listed cement failure and casing failure as the two top accident priorities to be addressed,” Krupnik said. “All but industry identified impoundment failure as another top concern.”

The report’s basic message is that there’s still a lot of work to do.

“Even the experts think so,” said Krupnik. “We hear Pennsylvania has some new proposed regulations, New Jersey has lifted its ban, North Carolina is working on regulations, Colorado recently made a big change, and Texas is reviewing its policies. But there’s still more to do.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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