As natural gas production in the Lower 48 from developing shale plays continues to grow, so too do questions surrounding the environmental impacts and current regulatory structure of the development process, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). In order to increase shale production, the government agency said protecting groundwater supplies is essential.
The DOE said the release of "Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer," provides regulators, policymakers and the public with "an objective source of information" on the technology advances and challenges that accompany deep shale gas development. The report was DOE-funded and championed by the Ground Water Protection Council.
Starting out as only the development of the Barnett Shale in Texas, shale exploration and production has taken off across the country in areas of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Illinois, and the Appalachian Basin. Because some of these areas have seen little or no oil and gas activity in the past and new shale gas development can bring change to the environmental and socio-economic landscape. the DOE said questions about the nature of shale gas development, the potential environmental impacts and the ability of the current regulatory structure to deal with this development, need to be answered.
Key to the emergence of shale gas production has been the refinement of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, which is also why protecting and conserving water resources is so important. The report also says that states are better equipped than the federal government to oversee shale development.
"[S]tate regulation of the environmental practices related to shale gas development, usually with federal oversight, can more effectively address the regional and state-specific character of the activities, compared to one-size-fits-all regulation at the federal level," the DOE said in the report.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) said the study's release comes at a time when some on Capitol Hill have expressed an interest in allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to take over the regulatory responsibilities of state and local energy experts.
IPAA CEO Barry Russell said the current system of state oversight is currently working.
"For energy resources that were once considered too deep to find, too expensive to produce, in rock too hard to access, this report from the Department of Energy shows just how far America's independent natural gas producers have come in converting the potential of shale into the reality of clean-burning, American energy," Russell said in response to the DOE report. "More than that, though, the report underscores the lengths to which these businesses and state regulatory officials go -- every day -- to ensure the energy development process is as safe, efficient and transparent as possible. The current state-federal regulatory partnership is working and is helping natural gas producers achieve a nationwide record of safety and environmental stewardship, while creating and sustaining millions of American jobs, and generating billions in local, state and federal revenues."
The 116 page DOE report is available at www.fossil.energy.gov.
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