Today, an advisory panel to the Department of Energy released a report claiming that the development of U.S. shale gas reserves requires more stringent oversight and regulation. The panel recommends that tighter restrictions are needed on air emissions, that companies should disclose the chemicals used in the drilling process, and that additional studies should be conducted regarding the potential impact that natural-gas exploration contributes to drinking water contamination.
The panel’s report, commissioned by President Obama, does not recommend any additional specific federal or state
regulations. However, the report suggests some unfounded truths behind the U.S. shale industry.
The report claims that U.S. shale production and development has “enormous potential to provide economic and
environmental benefits for the country” while reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. I could not agree more with this statement. However, the fact that the panel continues to suggest that shale developments and the utilization of the hydraulic fracturing process pose significant threats to the environment is simply not true.
For more than 60 years, America’s energy producers have relied on the process of hydraulic fracturing to enhance the
production of oil and natural gas. This innovative technology is applied to the majority of America’s oil and natural gas
wells to enhance well performance, minimize drilling, and recover otherwise inaccessible resources. The process was first utilized in 1947 and quickly became the most commonly used method of stimulating oil and natural gas wells. By 1988, the practice had already been utilized nearly one million times. It is estimated that over 90% of the wells in production today have been hydraulically fractured.
John Deutch, head of the DOE panel, claims that “the regulatory system wasn’t moving rapidly enough and decisively
enough to resolve some of these questions.” Mr. Deutch’s claims are unfounded given the fact that shale gas drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process are already heavily and effectively regulated by each individual state.
Since hydraulic fracturing became a commercially viable practice sixty years ago, state agencies have effectively monitored its implementation, setting guidelines and best practices. State agencies do the heavy lifting when it comes to ensuring the safety of energy exploration. Each state has a team of highly qualified inspectors and scientists whose job is to guarantee the proper execution of shale extraction.
Regarding the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, many states across the country are already implementing their own regulations that require companies to do so. Any federal attempt to require disclosure would be duplicative and overly burdensome.
The recommendation to conduct additional studies over the potential contamination of drinking water caused by hydraulic fracturing is redundant as well. A number of studies have been conducted on this issue and all have found that the process poses no discernable risk to the fresh water tables, including the EPA’s own 2004 study.
While the panel does suggest that shale developments have enormous potential, it’s recommendations for additional
oversight and regulation will place additional burdens on an already heavily regulated industry and stifle future job growth and energy production in the coming years.