Despite Industry Ties, DOE Fracking Panel Is Concerned About Boom

A committee organized by the Department of Energy to investigate the implications of the boom in natural gas fracking has raised major concerns about the practice. The seven-member panel, of which six have financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry, said that the lifecycle carbon footprint of shale gas needs investigation and that all fracking fluids should be disclosed. Legislation to restore frack fluid disclosure has been under major attack from the natural gas industry.

The panel has been criticized by top scientists in the field for its ties to the oil and natural gas industry. In a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, scientists argued that the panel should be reconstructed without such financial conflicts:

As scientists from 22 universities and institutions in 13 states, we are writing to express our concern over the lack of impartiality on the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board that is studying ways to make hydraulic fracturing safer. We urge you to modify the panel’s membership so that the panel can make recommendations on hydraulic fracturing that are unbiased and scientifically sound.

In our work, we believe in reducing individual biases in evaluating the merits of scientific or technological ideas. The current panel does not meet this standard. Six of the seven members have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry. These include: chairman John Deutch, Stephen Holditch, Kathleen McGinty, Susan Tierney, Daniel Yergin and Mark Zoback. These conflicts of interest make it appear that the subcommittee is designed to serve industry at taxpayer expense rather than serving President Obama and the public with credible advice.

The panel’s report on environmental guidelines certainly does read like a natural gas public relations document at times, praising natural gas as a “cornerstone of the U.S. economy” that provides “lower prices, domestic jobs, and the prospect of enhanced national security.” However, it is possible that the panel’s industry tries will mean its environmental recommendations will be taken seriously. At Climate Progress, Stephen Lacey explains that recommendations include the elimination of diesel fuel as a fracking fluid, better water-recycling methods, increased air-quality standards to lower on-site emissions, and more R&D to develop “green” fracking mixtures.

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