Mark Zoback is a geophysicist at Sanford and is one of the advisors on the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. The board published a report in November describing implementation strategies for 20 recommendations for regulatory improvements governing hydraulilc fracturing. The online outlet ‘ScienceDaily‘ has a good interview with Zoback (link provided below) putting the board’s recommendations and the mention of natural gas in the State of the Union.
There are numerous accounts of industry and natural gas extraction supporters in Congress that express the greater ability of states to regulate hydraulic fracturing rather than have federal regulations. The recommendations of the advisory board include both state and federal level implementation strategies, and also for some combination of the two. Given the numerous reports from industry representatives, such as from API during the NCLM forum in December, that the industry is regulated, it is curious to see news headlines like this:
Add to that, Democrats in the House Natural Resource Committee made notice that the number of violations reported related to hydraulic drilling activity on public lands in the last decade accumulated to $300,000 in fines. Not only were the fines too small to influence improved practices, but they cited inconsistent enforcement as well.
Meanwhile, environmental health scientists are scrambling to assess the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. Charles Schmidt, a science writer, describes the range of issues related to hydraulic fracturing, especially where it is done in urban settings, that require more health-related research to understand the effects of all aspects of fracking. He cites the regulatory statue for the Clean Air Act actually does not apply to fracking sites since individually, each site does not produce enough emissions to report to state agencies any emissions. The dispersed arrangement of drilling operations simply present a physical challenge to regulate their cumulative effect. The National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science hosted a couple of talks in December to call attention to research on health effects to the workforce and to the surrounding communities, but the director admits that…
…we need to do our best to get ahead of the curve, so we can more fully understand any potential health impacts related to the development of this resource.
Several presenters during the Duke forum last month mentioned that better and honest communication is needed from industry to gain greater understanding on the extent of risks. Add two more geoscientists to that list expressing the need for more clear and more thorough communication from the gas industry on the processes they use for hydraulic fracturing. They go on to reiterate that the natural gas is a valuable resource and is needed for our overall energy demand, but the extraction of this resource must be done correctly.