It is the Subcommittee’s judgment that if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country – perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades – there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences and a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity.
The consequences to the nation from unrestricted gas fracking could be very serious if multiple actions aren’t taken quickly by energy companies and the government. That the somewhat surprising conclusion of The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Subcommittee (SEAB) on Shale Gas Production.
It’s a bit surprising since “six of the seven members have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry.” It just shows how inescapable the dangers are when looked at by serious people.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, pumps water, sand and chemicals underneath shale formations to force out trapped gas. It allows companies to access massive reserves of gas that were formerly unreachable. But drilling operations leak large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and are associated with a host of problems including groundwater contamination and even earthquakes — see Shale Shocked: “Highly Probable” Fracking Caused U.K. Earthquakes, and It’s Linked to Oklahoma Temblors.
And fracking is poised to become commonplace around the country, as the map from the full report (PDF here) makes clear.
The Subcommittee strongly urged EPA and state regulation of fracking emissions — and that those regulations “explicitly include methane, a greenhouse gas.” In their first report from August, they recommended:
Measures should be taken to reduce emissions of air pollutants, ozone precursors, and methane as quickly as practicable.
Now they write:
We encourage EPA to complete its current rule making as it applies to shale gas production quickly, and explicitly include methane, a greenhouse gas, and controls from existing shale gas production sources. Additionally, some states have taken action in this area, and others could do so as well.
I testified to the members earlier this year on this matter. Since other experts raised the groundwater issue, I focused on urging the subcommittee to study the climate issue closely.
I told the committee that peer-reviewed and other research on the total lifecycle emissions of greenhouse gases from unconventional natural gas had raised serious questions about whether it has significantly lower emissions than coal and oil in various applications. Until this issue is resolved, it is unclear whether the federal government should make major investments in promoting natural gas use, including natural gas vehicles. I was glad the committee’s first report called for analysis to settle this important issue.
But subsequent analysis by independent experts have revealed that natural gas is no panacea for climate change — far from it:
- Natural Gas Bombshell: Switching From Coal to Gas Increases Warming for Decades, Has Minimal Benefit Even in 2100
- IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change.
The new SEAB report is just one more piece of evidence that we should hit the pause button on fracking until we resolve the major risks that it poses.