Not all the facts are in on the risks of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) well stimulation, so curtailing the practice would be a rush to judgment, according to a new report from the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI).
"Studies measuring reliably the total risk of shale gas production from the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are lacking. We should expect better information over the next two years," wrote report author Ken Costello, NRRI principal.
"In the meantime...waiting for new evidence does not justify banning fracking or imposing major restrictions on shale gas production -- the cost to the country is ostensibly too great relative to the benefits."
Even when evidence from studies now under way is in, it won't completely clear the fog of uncertainty around hydraulic fracturing, so policymakers will still be making decisions in an imperfect world, which is not all that much different from today, Costello argues.
In the introduction to his report Costello gives a quick rundown on what is known about fracking today. To wit:
Numerous fracking measures have been launched, Costello noted, with more than 100 bills in 19 states since October 2010. Many call for the disclosure of the contents of fracking fluids. For instance, Arkansas requires disclosure at the regulatory level; Louisiana is weighing something similar. Most notably, in Texas regulators are now writing disclosure rules mandated by state lawmakers (see Shale Daily, Sept. 1).
Banning or strictly curtailing fracking would smother America's energy renaissance in its infancy, Costello said, since gas doesn't come out of shales economically without it.
"The effect of shale gas on the U.S. and worldwide energy markets will be nothing short of remarkable," Costello said. "With an abundance of domestic natural gas, the U.S. will be able to rely much less on foreign sources of gas, such as liquefied natural gas. Predictions of lower and more stable natural gas prices, saving gas consumers hundreds of billions of dollars over the next two decades, should improve the economics of natural gas for different uses, notably in the electric power and transportation sectors."
Gas prices are where state regulators have an interest in the outcome of the fracking debate as regulators oversee gas and power utility rates. "Gas price forecasts will rely on the magnitude of shale gas production, which in turn will hinge on the resolution of the fracking debate," Costello said.