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Panel Criticizes Slow Response to Protect Public from Fracking Dangers

On November 10, 2011, the industry-dominated U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) advisory panel on fracking released its second report, which expressed mild frustration at the pace of government and industry’s efforts to implement the panel’s August 2011 recommendations.  “Progress to date is less than the Subcommittee hoped,” the panel asserted, “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 report again validated many of the environmental and health concerns that have been raised by environmental groups and other industry watchdogs.  The panel, composed mostly of experts with close ties to the shale gas extraction industry, reiterated its finding that “concerted and sustained action is needed to avoid excessive environmental impacts of shale gas production.”

The panel specifically criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) recently proposed air pollution limits related to shale gas drilling because the rules do not directly control methane emissions or cover currently existing shale gas sources.  The report also noted that the present arrangement of shared federal and state responsibility for cradle-to-grave water quality is not working as well as it should.  For instance, there has not been enough progress in baseline testing of water around shale gas wells before they are drilled, noting the lack of a clear division of authority over water wells between state, local, and federal governments.

Despite the obstacles to action, the panel did highlight small progress made in implementing its recommendations including:

• The Department of Interior intends to require disclosure of all chemicals in fracturing fluid used on federal lands, not just those that appear on Material Safety Data Sheets.

• On October 20, 2011 EPA announced a schedule for setting wastewater discharge standards that will affect some shale gas production activities.

The panel acknowledged 90 days wasn’t sufficient time to fully implement its recommendations, but pointed out that early application of certain steps would help further the process and could encourage the adoption of the more complicated proposals in their report. “To ensure the full benefits to the American people, environmental issues need to be addressed now—especially in terms of waste water, air quality and community impact,” said Panel Chairman John Deutch in a statement.

Environmentalists, though optimistic about the panel’s findings, continue to criticize the panel for its failure to address the health impacts associated with fracking.

View the complete report.


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