Today the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board – formed at the request of President Obama – issued its final draft report. The report focuses on the implementation of the many positive recommendations made by the subcommittee in its previous report that came out in August.
When the initial report was released, I had hoped that it would be a wake up call to the Obama administration, moving them on a path towards more responsible oversight of gas drilling. While some positive steps have been taken to protect our air, land and water from the impacts of drilling, it’s clear from this new report that we still have a long way to go.
To quote the subcommittee report:
“…. 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…”
The subcommittee found slow movement around protecting water and called out the EPA and the states for not adequately addressing cradle to grave water quality issues. On the air quality side of the pollution coin, the subcommittee criticized the EPA’s new air rules for not going far enough and urged them to regulated methane as well as existing pollution sources.
The subcommittee identified many ways for the Obama administration to move forward to reduce the harm from natural gas production. Disclosure of fracking fluids on public lands, the elimination of diesel fuel as a fracking fluid and not waiting until the EPA fracking study is done to take appropriate action to protect groundwater resources.
We need to move forward on all these issues, and the Obama administration should use all the tools available to them to protect communities and the environment from drilling. But, even if the plethora of recommendations from the subcommittee were to be implemented, there are still huge holes in both the science and the law that are going to hold us back from really knowing the true impacts of development, and mitigating them as best we can.
The loopholes in federal environmental laws (like the Halliburton loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act), will still continue to be a barrier to drilling safety until they are closed.
I hope that the Obama administration will look at the subcommittee recommendations as a first step on a (hopefully) short path to a safer, cleaner oil and gas industry. And, I continue to hope that the more substantial, parallel path towards a truly renewable energy future is a more signifigant part of the agenda. No matter how much we bury our heads in the sand and deny it, we all know that fossil fuels are not only dirty, but also finite.