Task Force Suggests Testing Air From Well Drill Pads

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
11 November 2011
By Erich Schwartzel

Drill pads in Pennsylvania could be a good place to start testing air emissions associated with natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale, according to recommendations released Thursday by a U.S. Department of Energy shale gas task force.

And that emissions data should be collected by drillers before government regulations are put in place that require it, said the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee. Both the Marcellus and the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas work as possible testing grounds for systems that would search for air pollutants, the subcommittee report says.

The report was the second from the subcommittee tasked with examining best practices in American shale plays and reporting back to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and President Barack Obama.

The subcommittee, which is made up of energy experts and industry leaders, earlier this year completed a months-long listening tour that included a public meeting in Washington, Pa.

Its first report, released in August, said natural gas companies should be required to disclose all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," process that splinters shale rock and allows gas to escape.

That recommendation is still included in this most recent report, as is a call for the elimination of diesel fuel in fracking fluids. Concerns about air pollution around drilling sites led the committee to recommend field studies on possible methane migration from gas wells to water reservoirs.

Overall, the second report echoes its predecessor in calling for greater transparency from an industry that the subcommittee says hasn't explained itself to the public very well.

The U.S. government should create a website that explains shale gas operations, and interagency efforts should immediately begin analyzing shale drilling's greenhouse gas footprint, according to the report.

The subcommittee cites the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a pro-industry lobbying group based in Canonsburg, as an effective regional approach to sharing best practices.

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.