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SEAB Not Pleased With Shale Progress

Everyone involved in shale gas development needs to do a better job, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) subcommittee on shale gas production said in its final report.

While "gratified" with the work that government, industry and public interest groups have done to implement its August recommendations, "the progress to date is less than the subcommittee hoped and it is not clear how to catalyze action at a time when everyone's attention is focused on economic issues, the press of daily business and an upcoming election," the subcommittee wrote in a report, which is scheduled to be released publicly on Nov. 18.

The subcommittee released its first report in August, laying out 20 recommendations it thought "would assure that the nation's considerable shale gas resources are being developed responsibly" (see Shale Daily, Aug. 12). The current report focuses on how stakeholders might go about using their limited resources to implement those recommendations, and suggests a philosophy of "continuous improvement."

Without action, the subcommittee said, shale development could cause environmental damage, leading to opposition that might jeopardize the "enormous potential benefits of this domestic energy resources."

So this time around the subcommittee laid out a "path" to give stakeholders a better idea of how to implement the previous recommendations. The subcommittee found that 14 of its recommendations could be handled now by either the federal or state governments, and only six required new partnerships.

On the federal level, the subcommittee blamed several setbacks on funding problems, including a failure to fund the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (Stronger Inc.) and the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), as well as research and development for shale gas. The report includes a letter from the federal Office of Management and Budget saying that it is in the process of deciding how best to merge public and private resources at a time when discretionary funding is capped.

But the subcommittee also believes that some efforts taken to date have fallen short, pointing in particular to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed air quality standards (see Shale Daily, July 29).

"There have been many positive actions undertaken by the industry and state regulatory authorities since the release of the SEAB subcommittee's August 90-day report," Reid Porter, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute (API), said. "We have collected several of these activities in a report shared with the members of the subcommittee last month to help inform their November report."

The API and other industry groups urged the subcommittee to defer to state regulators and to allow existing programs to address the concerns laid out in the August report (see Shale Daily, Aug. 31).

The Sierra Club saw things differently, though. "Today's announcement makes clear the inadequacies and problems within the natural gas industry. The subcommittee's report offers support for a series of EPA proposed safeguards that, if implemented, would be a step forward in cleaning up a rogue and dirty industry," Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club's Natural Gas Reform Campaign said.

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