Journalism in the Public Interest

Energy Dept. Panel Warns of Environmental Toll of Current Gas Drilling Practices

A report from a federal panel on shale gas said that without urgent action to improve drilling practices, regulators and the energy industry risk a public backlash that could slow development.

A federal energy panel issued a blunt warning to shale gas drillers and their regulators today, saying they need to step up efforts to protect public health and the environment or risk a backlash that stifles further development.

“Concerted and sustained action is needed to avoid excessive environmental impacts of shale gas production and the consequent risk of public opposition to its continuation and expansion,” said members of the Energy Department’s Shale Gas Subcommittee in a draft report released today.

The seven-member committee, appointed in January by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, provides a way for the Obama administration to weigh in on gas drilling, which is primarily overseen by state regulatory agencies.

In August, the panel issued a lengthy set of recommendations to state and federal agencies and the gas industry for making gas drilling safer.

Today’s report – acknowledging that progress on the panel’s suggestions has been slow – sets out who needs to do what in order to turn recommendations into reality. The panel also stressed the importance of shale gas to the nation’s energy policy, noting that it already makes up 30 percent of domestic gas production.

The report calls on the EPA to revise a proposed rule on air emissions to include limits on methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and criticizes recent moves by the agency that have hindered efforts to get better data from the oil and gas industry, a crucial step toward improving controls.

The report also concludes that joint federal and state efforts to ensure water quality are “not working smoothly” and urges the EPA to move unilaterally to improve oversight as it carries out a study on potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

The panel’s recommendations are not binding, but Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said they carry significant weight.

“We need more experts acknowledging publicly that there are real risks and they can be addressed,” she said. NRDC and other environmental organizations sent a letter to President Obama last week, urging him to issue an executive order directing federal agencies to carry out the panel’s recommendations.

Drilling companies have in the past resisted some policy changes that the panel is recommending, such more stringent federal limits on emissions. Reid Porter, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, would not comment on the specific recommendations, but said API members have begun to implement some of the panel's recommendations, including working with state agencies to strengthen best practices on well design and minimizing water use.

The Energy Department’s advisory board will hold a public meeting on the draft report on Monday before finalizing it.

Correction (11/10): This story has been changed. An earlier version made it seem as if Reid Porter, an API spokesman, said that drillers have opposed some of the energy panel's recommendations. Porter did not comment on that issue.

Kenneth Barnhart

Nov. 10, 2011, 10:31 p.m.

I saw at leat 20 wells burning off large amounts of natural gas in North Dakota from the Amtrak Empire Builder Train in September.  Lands in this area have a checkered ownership and the oil and gas extracted are supposed to be sold and the proceeds shared with mineral rights owners of the lands in this basin (Williston, I believe).  Not sure of why this resource is not being captured, refined and utilized.  Instead it seems that the natural gas is being burned.  I wonder if these well owners have obtained permits from the EPA..

I think that we have to shift the focus of the argument concerning natural gas. Until we address severely limiting consumption we will be condemned to this back-and-forth between those against natural gas fracking and those who recognize that if we are to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels it is necessary (unless we can save renewable energy from being pushed aside as too expensive/unable to meet our needs as consumers).

I am definitely against natural gas extraction and think that we are taking a million steps backward by not pushing instead for alternative energy systems but where is the feasible alternative? Why is there no official rhetoric that we need to severely reduce electricity consumption, maybe ration transportation, etc.? These are uncomfortable questions to be sure but these actions may be our only hope.

Unless we want to incessantly pit citizens against each other in energy-source arguments we need to stop focusing on Democrat versus Republican and corporate guy versus working guy and come up with real solutions. No one on the spectrum wants to give up their ability to turn on however many lights whenever they want to, but these are over-consumption issues that we need to talk about managing.

@kenneth barnhart: The burning gas should be lead into HTR’s (high temperature reactors) to produce gas, diesel and kerosen plus the same amount of clear water! There’s worldwide gas wasted in unbelievable masses. Why not stop that?

Anita Mitchell

Nov. 11, 2011, 1:09 p.m.

We can not afford to have water tables and aquifers contaminated with fracking fluids.

Nothing can live without water.

Water will soon be more valuable than oil, gas, or even gold.  Water is a finite resource and we, in the Midwest, sit upon the mother-load of drinkable water.  Why allow any source of hydrocarbon energy extraction endanger our what is our country’s most precious of resources.  It defies logic.  If gold-mining, oil extraction and natural gas extractions can not be done without endangering water supplies, they should not be allowed to be extracted.  Solar, wind and wave must be brought up to snuff and made economically feasible for they are the rational choices.

Barry Schmittou

Nov. 11, 2011, 1:46 p.m.

I believe funding and research for natural sources of energy has been suppressed by the oil, gas and coal industries influence on the U.S. and world governments.

The dangers of shale must be really huge for a government committee to actually write :

“Concerted and sustained action is needed to avoid excessive environmental impacts of shale gas production”

Please note that they were also concerned about “the consequent risk of public opposition to its continuation and expansion”

So many government agencies have flagrantly failed to do their job it’s very hard to trust any of them.

ProPublica wrote these quotes about the DOL’s failure to stop insurance companies from destroying injured war zone contractors lives :

“Workers fought long battles for medical care, including such things as prosthetic devices and treatment for post-traumatic stress. The Labor Department seldom took action to enforce the law. Labor officials can recommend cases for prosecution to the Justice Department–but have only done so once in the past two decades, according to Labor officials.”

(end of ProPublica quotes)

The same crimes are destroying many injured workers lives in America.
WFAA – TV in Dallas Texas Wrote :

“a remarkable number of Texans committed suicide because they could no longer endure the pain caused by their injuries and they had been repeatedly turned down for worker’s comp care.”

The governments protection of insurance companies destruction of lives is so severe professor’s wrote these quotes :

Joseph Belth, Professor Emeritus for Insurance at Indiana University wrote :

“They’ve turned Erisa on its head,”  “It was supposed to protect employees, and it’s being used to protect insurers.”

John Marshall Law School Professor Mark Debofsky wrote:

“empirical evidence is now available that shows insurers operating under ERISA have systematically engaged in the wrongful denial of claims.

“The most important federal insurance regulation of the past generation is ERISA,” says Tom Baker, deputy dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia. “If ever a law backfired for the public, ERISA is the perfect example.”

And now we have a very important Energy Department Panel report that writes they are :

“acknowledging that progress on the panel’s suggestions has been slow”

It seems the government rarely does anything for the public health and safety and when they do they are very slow. We cannot afford to be slow when it comes to water quality, pollution, cleaner sources of energy, and the health and safety of America and the world.

Jennifer Loren

Nov. 11, 2011, 1:49 p.m.

I would like to know -specifically- which state agencies the API has been working with… and on what -specifically.

bruce ritchie

Nov. 11, 2011, 2:05 p.m.

The most consistently underutilized source of energy is conservation.  By that, I mean to NOT heat unused rooms,DO wear sweaters/hats indoors, use electric heat in small areas around self (under desk/table) and generally to recognize and change the overwhelming BAD habits which define our energy usage. This includes our habits of automobile usage, and even our constant-on water heaters.  The most common denominator of these bad habits is having one’s brain turned OFF, and various appliances/devices turned ON. We must understand our energy usage, and care enough to change it.
As the usages go down, the price per unit will go up. . . . and then we might have some of these sources last for several more generations, while we rethink our lifestyles, localize our economies etc.

“....saying they need to step up efforts to protect public health and the environment or risk a backlash that stifles further development.”

lollll….I think they are aware of the potential for a public backlash; hence why I would see dozens of frack trucks at a time on I-79 north of Pittsburgh this past year.  Get ‘em in, grout ‘em in, get out…before the fluids used and the oils/gases they’re releasing have time to migrate very far horizontally, I suppose.

You ever notice that fracking companies have a tendency to be named [Blah], LLC ???

@bruce ritchie….I couldn’t agree more! That is part of what I take issue with; common sense reduction techniques instead of trying to exploit natural resources to meet outrageous demands.


Nov. 11, 2011, 2:44 p.m.

So oil & land man T Boone Pickens was entertaining purchase of Ogallala Aquifer.  Bush buys ranch in South America sitting atop one of another aquifer.
They know the game and they’ll be on the clean water spigot after the fracking boys pollute good n plenty.

Undersea volcanic vents!  It pumping energy regarless and just need to harness!

Christina Marlowe

Nov. 11, 2011, 2:56 p.m.

I have concluded that NOT ONE SINGLE government agency, whether local, state or federal, functions AT ALL;  each of these worse-than-useless government agencies had once presumably been put into place in order to “protect” or “defend” consumers, average citizens, etc., etc., etc.  Each has FAILED UTTERLY, TOTALLY AND MISERABLY.  The Big Corporate Interests have been busily, steadfastly and remarkably BLATANTLY whittling away, i.e. DECIMATING, every last UTTERLY NECESSARY REGULATION that had been put into place to keep all of this dreadful, wasteful and godawful destruction from happening in the first place. 

The Industrial Corporate Interests lobby constantly to completely destroy each of the rules and regulations that had initially been used to govern and restrain these megalithic Corporations from total world domination.  Now we can see just what happens when there are no more rules to follow;  we now live in total LAWLESSNESS;  those that THINK that it is THEY who hold the reins, those few whom have all the money and control all industry, pay their filthy lucre to those government agencies to make CERTAIN that they will never be PROSECUTED!!!!!!!! 

These CRIMINALS in their CRIMINAL EMPIRES, i.e. the INDUSTRIAL CORPORATE TITANS, these CRIMINALS break every single law that may still exist;  NOT ONE OF THESE CRIMINALS IS EVER INDICTED FOR ANY of the MANY NEFARIOUS and CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES.  It is so appallingly apparent and so glaringly obvious that these CRIMINALS are each…ABOVE THE LAW.

Starting first really with President CARTER, then FULLY EMBRACED and implemented by RONALD REAGAN, the old psychopathic pathological LIAR, Deregulation of each and every industry has been RUINOUS;  and all these POLITICAL IDIOTS on either side CONTINUE TO MERELY DENY ALL FACTS and continue to LIE BLATANTLY about EVERYTHING.  Furthermore, these IMBECILES don’t even care if they get CAUGHT in LIES;  THEY ARE NOT JUST TOTALLY SHAMELESS, but they are TOTALLY STUPID. 

How can we actually CONSENT to being Thoroughly DUPED, CONNED, RIPPED OFF by a bunch of lying, thieving…WHORES?!?!  OVERTHROW ALREADY!!!!!!!!

So, in the end, I do NOT recognize this government or ANYONE IN this government AT ALL.  In fact, I hold every one of these government HUMPS/HACKS/FLUNKIES in PURE and UTTER CONTEMPT.  Until I see ALL THE RAMPANT FRAUD and the MANY OTHER CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES (WAR CRIMES come to mind) being ADDRESSED;  Until I see these FILTHY CRIMINALS being ACTIVELY PROSECUTED and SENT TO PRISON FOR THEIR CRIMES, I must simply say this: 


1.  Mind your own goddamned business.
2.  Don’t you DARE try to tell ME what to do and, perhaps most important,

Mildly Amused

Nov. 11, 2011, 3:23 p.m.

@Christina Marlowe:  And no doubt all the targets of your ire are reading ProPublica this afternoon, so your message is well focused.

Haha @Mildly Amused !

@Christina Marlowe: if you spent half as much time formulating energy solutions as you do being angry…well we’d be all set.

@Anita Mitchell and NotPaidtoscrewup

I agree, water is our most precious resource and the fact that the Bush’s are buying water is really eye-opening.  I bet Halliburton is trying to figure out how to capitalize on pure water after they f**k up the aquifers.

As noted on Nov. 9, the industry would be well-served to establish best practices and compel companies to comply. Otherwise a bad accident could have a far-reaching impact including spoiling water supplies and putting humans and animals at risk. Result could be more than what Three Mile Island has done the nuclear power industry 32 years ago.


The CEO’s in all industries today only concentrate on getting their big bonuses into their greedy hands each year.  They don’t care about what damage has to be done, what little people they have to step on, to get that bonus.  Enough is never enough to them as far as money goes.

Much of our nation is currently experiencing a terrible drought. One region that has escaped that drought is the Northeast. What rational policy maker would look at a map of the current drought, point to the Northeast, and say, “Let’s frack that region”?

Our climate is changing: the vast majority of experts agree on that. Instead of gulping down still more fossil fuel, we need some realistic planning, including planning for where the water for upwards of 300 million people is going to come from.

I agree with those other commenters who are emphasizing the need for conservation. The truth is that most Americans could lead very comfortable lives and still use much less energy than they currently use. One person pointed out the fact that most water heaters run 24/7. Why? Isn’t that just crazy? Why even spend the money on that, much less the energy? After many years of letting our water heater run 24/7, about three years ago we finally woke up and started turning it off for most of the day. We now run it for only a couple of hours, around the time that dishes are being done and showers are being taken. It isn’t a terrible hardship at all, it saves energy and money, and it’s just one example in a long list of examples of ways to cut energy use.

At the rate we’re going we’re going to trash our one and only planet because we were too busy (or lazy) to flip off a few switches. You can’t get much dumber than that. It’s time for some adult awareness of reality, not more of the same rampant consumerism and thoughtlessness that have gotten us into this mess.

Something needs to be done about EPA and DEQ behind the scenes consent decrees with heavy and consistent polluters. When regulatory actions are kept from open court, the public is ignorant of repeated exposure to toxic substances, and the costs of all investigatory and enforcement agencies are shifted TO taxpayers, NOT the offending entities. This is in effect, protecting the polluters and diverting the health care costs to Medicare and medicaid. The regulators need to be under independent scrutiny, along with those they supposedly regulate.

Christina:  You’re part of the problem….ranting is NOT the solution.  If you have solutions, you should be writing your Congressmen/women, etc. instead of ranting and raving…..there are PLENTY of things that are GOOD about our country….ranting about the things that are not so good doesn’t solve anything.

Another heart-warming (well, sorta…I get warm when I get really mad) fracking story at:

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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