PITTSBURGH (AP) — The final report from a federal panel on natural gas drilling warns that the industry and the government need to do more to address environmental concerns.
The panel was convened by Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the request of President Barack Obama. Subcommittee chairman John Deutch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, warned in a statement that "environmental issues need to be addressed now — especially in terms of waste water, air quality, and community impact."
The focus of gas drilling companies has shifted in recent years to the Marcellus Shale, a massive rock formation underlying New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Pennsylvania is the center of activity, with more than 3,000 wells drilled in the past three years and thousands more planned.
The drillers use a procedure called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves blasting chemical-laced water into the ground. Environmentalists and other critics say fracking could poison water supplies, but the natural gas industry says it's been used safely for decades.
The report, issued Nov. 18, noted that the panel still feels that "the development of shale gas is one of the biggest energy innovations, if not the biggest, in several decades" and that the resource has reduced energy costs and created hundreds of thousands of jobs.
But on several issues the report said that the progress to date is less than the panel had hoped.
"If action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country — perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades — there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences and a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity."
The subcommittee held several contentious public meetings last summer and was criticized for being both too friendly to the industry and not friendly enough.
Pittsburgh resident Gloria Forouzan attended one of those meetings, and she said that despite extensive publicity and debate many activists agree that environmental concerns aren't getting enough attention.
"I don't sense any improvement," Forouzan said Wednesday. "The federal government has failed us. The state government has failed us."
The report noted that several earlier recommendations the panel made haven't been implemented.
For example, it had suggested the creation of a $20 million online portal to help improve the public's understanding of unconventional gas drilling. But the final report noted that there is "no firm plan" on how to do that.
The report added that "no new studies" have been launched on the issue of possible migration of methane — a gas that at high concentrations is explosive and can lead to asphyxiation — from gas wells to water wells.
There has been progress in some areas. The report noted that "companies are considering projects to collect and disclose air emissions data from shale gas production sites."
The report also called for more cooperation between the industry and federal and state regulators.
American Petroleum Institute spokesman Reid Porter said in an email that "the oil and natural gas industry is working with the regulators in states where shale energy development is occurring to share our knowledge and encourage them to help us raise the bar on performance."
Energy report: http://1.usa.gov/swW9pn