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‘Fracking’ for natural gas can be safer and more transparent, energy report says

fracking.jpg The natural gas industry should be more transparent in disclosing information about its shale gas operations and the substances used in hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, according to a US Energy Department report released today.

Fracking is a technique which forces a high-pressure mixture of sand, water and chemicals into shale rock in order to tap deep reservoirs of natural gas. It is currently responsible for 30 percent of natural gas production in the U.S.

A seven-member panel, commissioned on 5 May by President Barack Obama, made several recommendations about the controversial technique in the report. They advise reducing air pollution during operations, and urge industry to make more water quality and flow measurements at every step of the process. They recommend creating a Shale Gas Industry Operation organization that would improve operating practices. And they point out that there is no economic or technical reason for industry not to disclose the special fracking chemicals that they have kept mostly secret.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu charged the panel to carry out the investigation as part of Obama’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, a plan which would increase natural gas production as a way of reducing US dependence on foreign oil.

The panel’s chair, John Deutch, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and the former US Director of Central Intelligence, said in a press release, “The current output of shale gas and its potential for future growth emphasize the need to assure that this supply is produced in an environmentally sound fashion, and in a way that meets the needs of public trust.”

Fracking has been received a lot of attention recently, with France banning the technique earlier this year. Potential dangers were also highlighted when audiences witnessed people setting fire to methane-rich drinking water in the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland.

While the final report is not due until 18 November, the draft 90-day report is available now.

Posted on behalf of George Wigmore

Picture credit: Rich Anderson/Flickr


  1. Report this comment

    Josh Stack said:

    Safer? Don’t you mean, “less destructive”.

    As McDonough and others have already pointed out, less bad is not good. Less damaging to life is not “safer.”

    Big difference!

  2. Report this comment

    Ben Ainsworth said:

    I read that the burning tap water shown in the activist movie “Gasland” was now proven to be from a coal bed methane source from coal seams in the walls of the water well. This was not really a fracking cause at all. The fact is that we in industry use the measurement of seeping hydrocarbons that lodge in common soils to identify hydrocarbon resources at depth. Hydrocarbons can stream upwards through long periods of time and leave a fingerprint in the soils. It is a well established geochemical practice that can help locate the hydrocarbons. Any claim as to the source of hydrocarbons in drinking water wells should be supported by samples taken before fracking. In fact the EPA is remiss in not gathering that information, using an independent qualified party or parties acceptable to both industry and government that would sample in advance of fracking and act as umpires after fracking. Let us use science and not theatrics to resolve these perceived problems.

  3. Report this comment

    Hilncore said:

    No matter what they do, Fracking will be dangerous to the environment. I wonder who’s going to clean the toxic waste the industry has been dumping in rivers, and in the grounds since 2005?

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