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Energy Department logoToday the Department of Energy’s shale gas advisory panel formed at the request of President Obama issued its interim report.

Frankly, it’s better than we expected. Given the lack of community representation amongst the panel, we were concerned that the panel would ignore the obvious negative impacts of natural gas in favor of industry rhetoric.

Instead, the panel recognized the serious impacts that shale gas production has on water, air and public health.

We hope that this report is a wake up call to the Obama administration, and that they begin to pay attention to both the panel recommendations and the recent history of inadequate state attempts to regulate natural gas production. This report should serve as a blueprint for responsible oversight of shale gas drilling.

Three of the most important recommendations of the interim report:

  1. Full public disclosure of all toxics released during the drilling process, including fracking chemicals and air toxic emissions
  2. Establishment of no-drilling zones for unique and sensitive areas
  3. Complete examination of climate change impacts of natural gas production i.e. refusal to accept the conventional wisdom that just because burning of natural gas is relatively climate-friendly, that production (including drilling, refining and transport) of natural gas is as well.

There are other good recommendations too: including banning use of diesel in fracking, and a recommendation that drastic reduction in air pollution from gas production is needed.  You can read them all with the interim report.

For this to be a blueprint for constructive action, the Department of Interior, EPA and other agencies must reassess the current drilling industry regulations and do everything within their power to make sure that these recommendations become standard for the industry across the board.  

Though implementation of these much-needed report recommendations will have positive effects on the natural gas industry, the loopholes in federal environmental law and regulations (like the Halliburton loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act), will still continue to be a barrier to drilling safety.

If the Obama administration really takes the DoE panel recommendations to heart, it will throws its weight behind the FRAC Act and BREATHE Act two pieces of legislation that will close some of the most egregious looholes.

The interim report will be discussed at a public meeting on August 15th

After that, the panel will finalize the report and the Obama administration will have to choose whether to act.