An advisory panel studying the safety of hydraulic fracturing to tap shale gas deposits in the US has issued its final report.
The Department of Energy panel was formed last January in response to mounting concerns about the controversial extraction method. It has given its seal of approval, while pointing out areas of concern and making a raft of recommendations, the New England Fuel Institute (NEFI) reports.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping larges amount of water laced with chemicals and sand beneath the earth to fracture shale rock and release trapped oil and gas reserves.
The US is rich in shale reserves and the number of fracking wells across the country has ballooned as energy companies look to exploit buried natural resources. The surge in fracking operations has boosted domestic crude, natural gas and propane supplies, helping to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil.
“Shale gas accounts for 30 percent of all natural gas production in the US, up from just 2 percent in 2001,” the NEFI reports. “The DOE estimates that shale gas will account for 45 percent of US production by 2035.”
The advisory panel was formed at the behest of the Obama administration following widespread environmental and health concerns relating to potential drinking water contamination, surface radiation hazards and air pollution from fracking operations.
Each fracking drill leaks large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and uses up to five million gallons of water – much of which remains trapped beneath the earth.
The panel gave a qualified endorsement for shale gas exploration, pointing out the numerous benefits on offer. But it called on companies to fully disclose the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process and adopt rigorous emission standards for methane, air toxics, ozone-forming pollutants and other major airborne contaminants.
The panel also recommended closer monitoring of the fracking process including establishment of water quality baselines in affected areas and study of methane migration from drilling sites to underground drinking water supplies. The report does not recommend any new state or federal requirements for the largely unregulated shale gas industry.
In noting concerns about fracking fluids contaminating water sources, the panel said the chances of “properly injected” chemicals reaching drinking water through fractures was remote, oilgaslawbrief.com reported.
It also suggested greater recycling of fracking water to reduce the amount of contaminated wastewater that fracking drills generate – a practice already being employed by some energy companies.