Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping massive amounts of fluid — a mixture of water and chemicals — underground, which cracks the shale and drives the gas to the surface. With major deposits in several regions of the country, including the Northeast and the Midwest, firms are tapping into the resource at an unprecedented rate.
Shale gas accounted for less than 2 percent of total U.S. natural-gas production in 2001; it is now close to 30 percent, and the Energy Information Administration projects that it will amount to 45 percent of domestic production by 2035.
As drilling activity has moved closer to residential areas — and as some researchers have found unusually high methane concentrations in nearby drinking water — local activists have called for a stop to further drilling. But industry officials, many politicians and some environmentalists have argued that the country must exploit a domestic energy source that does not release as much carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels when burned.
John Deutch, a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who chaired the advisory panel, said in an interview that the group offered “a different approach” to overseeing fracking. “You measure, you disclose what you measure, and you use these measurements to improve the way you operate in the field and reduce your environmental impact,” he said.
Said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund and another panel member: “If the recommendations are adopted, shale gas resources in the United States will be tapped in a way that avoids some of the environmental problems that have cropped up so far, and minimizes and recognizes others.” He added: “There is now a path for industry to act, and regulators to act, to avert the looming impasse over shale gas development.”
The group’s recommendations will go to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department does not regulate natural-gas production. But its advice, which covers potential actions by regulators and industry, could carry political weight because President Obama asked Chu to establish the advisory group.
On Wednesday, the Environmental Working Group released a letter signed by 28 scientists objecting to the panel, noting that six of its members had connections to industry and that Deutch serves on the board of the natural-gas firm Cheniere Energy and was paid more than $1.4 million by that company and Schlumberger. between 2006 and 2009. Deutch said he fully disclosed his background before Chu selected him.