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'A Clear Call for Action,' but Loopholes in Federal Law Remain

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 — An Energy Department advisory panel today called for swift action to protect air, drinking water and public health from the impacts of the shale gas boom. Earthworks applauded the recommendations, but said loopholes in key environmental laws must still be closed to shield communities in America's gas patch from the risks of drilling and fracking.

President Obama called on Secretary Chu to examine the health and environmental impacts that have plagued the nation's gas fields for decades. After three months of study and public hearings, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board's Subcommittee on Natural Gas released its recommendations. The subcommittee identified four areas of concern from shale gas production: possible pollution of drinking water from methane and chemicals; air pollution; disruption of communities; and cumulative impacts on communities and the environment.

The panel's report calls for full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, as well as disclosure of wastewater and air emissions, and reinforces the need for a full analysis of the shale boom's impact on climate change. It also says natural gas activity should be banned in unique and sensitive areas.

” The subcommittee has issued a clear call for swift federal action to protect our air, drinking water and health from the impacts of the shale gas boom,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks. ” It's now up to the Interior Department, the EPA and other federal agencies to step up to the challenge and keep us safe from the consequences of irresponsible drilling. “

The subcommittee supports adoption of rigorous emissions standards for both new and existing sources for methane, air toxics, ozone-forming pollutants, and other major airborne contaminants resulting from natural gas exploration, production, transportation, and distribution activities, says the report's executive summary.

Gwen Lachelt, director of Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said the subcommittee's report was stronger than expected. But she said Americans will not be fully protected until the natural gas industry's exemptions from key federal environmental laws are removed.

” While today's report outlines several helpful steps to reduce the environmental costs of natural gas drilling, it is unfortunate that the subcommittee stopped short of calling for the closure of a key loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act and other environmental laws, leaving communities living amidst the shale gas boom at risk,” said Lachelt. ” The subcommittee's recommendations offer an historic opportunity for the President and our federal agencies to hold the natural gas industry to the highest standards.”