Shale gas development: Getting the best bang for your buck

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A poll conducted by Pew Research Center last fall highlights the national debate over hydraulic fracturing with 49 percent of surveyed individuals in opposition to hydraulic fracturing, and 44 percent in support of the method. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and the head of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp, weigh in on the national debate in today s New York Times op-ed, suggesting a Right Way to Develop Shale Gas.

Concerns real or imagined about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing are major drivers of public opinion regarding this issue. Environmentalist concerns are primarily air and ground water pollution, as well as methane emissions. Bloomberg and Krupp explain how mistakes or accidents in other phases of the [hydraulic fracturing] process poor well construction or surface spills, for example have induced surface water contamination. Moreover, growing evidence links natural gas development to methane emissions, which is a a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released. While some methane will certainly be released during fracking, it is not clear whether this amount will be sufficient to have any environmental impact.

Bloomberg and Krupp suggest the process by which we can avert environmental harm and optimize the benefits of natural gas production is rooted in data acquisition and management. By identifying hot spots of air and water pollution, they believe we can erase air and water pollution from shale gas drilling, adding, We have the technology to do this. But we can t manage what we don t measure.

Furthermore, both advocates recommend effective and strict public regulations. Texas, Wyoming, Ohio and Colorado have already implemented rules managing reductions in air and water contamination, protecting groundwater integrity, and reducing methane emissions. They emphasize the cost-benefit of such regulation, noting the Environmental Defense Fund s measures to reduce methane emissions cost of less than a penny per thousand cubic feet of gas produced, which today costs between $4 and $5.

As such, a data driven system to detect areas of elevated pollution, along with practical and cost-efficient policy can continue to advance and procure the benefits of shale gas development. These include lowering energy costs, creating new jobs, boosting domestic manufacturing and delivering some measurable environmental benefits as well.

ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross had this comment: It s good to see the Times, ex-Mayor Bloomberg, and the head of the EDF getting together in the acknowledgment that the multifaceted impact of hydraulic fracturing is difficult to ignore and must be sustained. They discuss the vast actual and potential benefits of shale gas recovery through high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking), while also noting the valid concerns and real events that have done some environmental damage. However, their perspective is based on those instances which happen in or near any gas or oil exploration site: minor accidents and some negligence, but nothing inherent in the fracking process itself. The activists who call for an end to fracking and who have hemmed N.Y. s Governor Cuomo into a corner make wild allegations about environmental degradation and human health impacts that are not based on any reality, and it is noteworthy that these authors did not even mention health effects. This is a rare instance of a mainstream media discussion which is neither alarmist nor bias; the Times and the authors deserve kudos.