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Separating Facts from Politics: Recent Studies on Fracing

The battle in Texas and in the country in the oil and gas field over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracing”, rages on, of course. There are several recent developments in the effort to uncover the facts about fracing, as opposed to unsubstantiated claims and political posturing. These research efforts are important resources for better understanding of this technology and how it affects the environment and the natural gas industry. With so much discussion and debate on the issue of fracing, a technology used for years but subject to intense criticism only recently, it is especially important to publicize the scientific evidence related to the process, rather than buying into the political hype (see a previous post on my opinions here).

The University of Texas at Austin released its preliminary findings, entitled “Boom or Bane: A Report on Hydraulic Fracturing of Shale”, excerpted from an intensive ongoing research and study project on this issue, on November 9, 2011. The University’s Energy Institute examined the use of hydraulic fracturing in shale gas drilling. The preliminary findings indicate that there is no direct link between fracing and groundwater contamination. The researchers suggest that, at worst, any contamination is probably from above ground spills, mishandling of drilling waste products, or faulty cement casings-not the the hydraulic fracturing itself. Dr. Charles “Chip” Groat, a UT geology professor and Energy Institute associate director who is leading this research project, stated at the release of the preliminary findings: “Our goal is to inject science into what has become an emotional debate and provide policymakers a foundation to develop sound rules and regulations.” The final report is expected to be released soon, in the early part of this year. The Energy Institute has two other projects on hydraulic fracturing in shale gas development in the works which may also shed light on the issue in the near future.

In November of last year, the Environmental Protection Agency released its Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources. This study intends to look into the potential effects on drinking water from various natural gas drilling techniques associated with hydraulic fracturing. The EPA plans to use existing data as well as developing case studies at the Haynesville, Marcellus, Bakken, and Barnett fields. They will study drinking water at sites where fracing has already been used and collect data both before and after fracing at new sites where the process has not been used before. This report will be released in two parts, the first of which is expected by the end of 2012. That first report will contain the analysis of existing data. The longer-term results of this EPA project will be released in a supplemental report in 2014, which will include information and conclusions from the case studies of new sites.

On November 10, 2011, the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board released its final report, entitled “The SEAB Shale Gas Production Subcommittee Second Ninety Day Report“, on shale gas production. This report focused on implementation of the 20 recommendations made in a related interim report, including more public information about shale gas production, disclosure of the fracturing fluid’s composition, and the creation of a shale industry organization dedicated to improving best practices. The final report speaks mostly in generalities. It calls for progress in reducing the environmental impact of shale gas production and creating partnerships between the industry, states, and federal agencies.

There will always be some who seek to demonize anything that the oil and gas industry does. However, fair-minded people should ensure that their elected officials base any policy decisions related to fracing on real evidence and not partisan posturing.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Chesapeake Reduction in Gas Well Drilling & Exploration May Effect Texas Mineral Owners

NAT GAS Act May Be Misguided Legislation

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