Federal Panel: Pay Attention to Gas Drilling in Pa., Elsewhere

Morgantown Dominion Post
8 December 2011
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — The final report from a federal panel on natural gas drilling warns that the industry and the government need to do more to address environmental concerns.

The panel was convened by Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the request of President Barack Obama. Subcommittee chairman John Deutch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, warned in a statement that “environmental issues need to be addressed now — especially in terms of waste water, air quality, and community impact.”

The focus of gas drilling companies has shifted in recent years to the Marcellus shale, a massive rock formation underlying New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Pennsylvania is the center of activity, with more than 3,000 wells drilled in the past three years and thousands more planned.

The drillers use a procedure called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves blasting chemicallaced water into the ground. Environmentalists and other critics say fracking could poison water supplies, but the natural gas industry says it’s been used safely for decades.

The report, issued Nov. 18, noted that the panel still feels that “the development of shale gas is one of the biggest energy innovations, if not the biggest, in several decades” and that the resource has reduced energy costs and created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But on several issues the report said that the progress to date is less than the panel had hoped.

“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 and a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity.”