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DOE Fracking Panel Developing Timeline for Actions

Nearly 200 people crowded the phone lines of an open meeting Monday night to hear public comments surrounding the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee's initial report on hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

After 30 minutes of public comment, during which a handful of people were able to voice their displeasure, the subcommittee presented the draft version of its initial report to the board and set to work developing a timeline over the next 90 days for federal and state regulatory agencies to implement its recommendations.

Department of Energy (DOE) spokeswoman Amy Bodette told NGI's Shale Daily that the board agreed to send the 41-page report to Energy Secretary Steven Chu with minimal changes. A final version of the initial report is scheduled to be presented to Chu on Thursday.

"They are going to add an addendum that just lets [Chu] know that there were public comments made at the beginning of the meeting," Bodette said Tuesday. "It will just be a summary of those comments. The board also made a small number of recommendations about additional work for the next 90 days that they wanted the secretary to consider. They are not changes to the specific report."

The draft version of the initial report, released last Thursday, encourages regulators and the industry to develop and enact a "best practices" strategy on fracking in order to allay public fears of the practice and for shale gas development to be successful (see Shale Daily, Aug. 12). Its recommendations include disclosing the contents of fracking fluids, measures to protect air and water quality and providing more information to the public.

"There are a number of recommendations in the initial report, and the board suggested investigating if there are timelines that could be attached to any of those recommendations," Bodette said, but added that the subcommittee's final report, due Nov. 18, "may or may not have timelines attached. That will be a decision the board has to make."

Bodette said about 170 people called into a teleconference for Monday's meeting and about 15 of the first people to sign up were able to take two minutes for their comments. She characterized the callers as a "mix" between supporters and detractors of fracking, adding that most "were just private citizens who had concerns."

One of those callers was Jeff Allison, spokesman for the environmental group Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.

"I think they were being very good about wanting to get some immediate reaction," Allison told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. "They're trying to do a good job getting a variety of opinions. They're not excluding us from comments by any means, and to invite us to their subcommittee conference call and allow us some time to speak is pretty admirable."

But Allison said he was critical of what he perceived as the subcommittee's "let's push ahead; everything is a go" mentality.

"In New York there has been a failure of the regulatory agencies to conduct a cumulative impact statement [on shale gas drilling]," Allison said. "If nothing else, we should be using data from the energy companies themselves. When they tell us how much shale gas is out there, we can use that figure to determine how many wells they will need to drill in order to produce that much gas. Then you can extrapolate how many chemicals, water, accidents and truck trips could result if that volume of drilling is indeed undertaken."

Allison also suggested that the subcommittee make good on its recommendation that a community's cumulative impacts from drilling be analyzed.

"Our economy is based on tourism, agriculture and second home markets from [New York City]," Allison said. "A lot of the construction industry is around converting second homes into full-time residences as people retire. There will be a negative impact on all of those industries if shale gas drilling comes in here."

Chu formed the subcommittee in May following a policy speech by President Obama calling for both increased development and scrutiny of natural gas (see Shale Daily, May 9; April 4; March 31).

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