Gas Report Is Good News

August 15, 2011
By The Intelligencer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Given President Barack Obama's record on energy issues, the verdict of a panel he convened on natural gas drilling may have come as a surprise to some. It certainly is a welcome one.

Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency have been harsh in their treatment of some conventional energy industries, such as coal. But a special committee formed to investigate new gas drilling technologies has, in essence, given the industry a clean bill of health.

John Deutch, chairman of the Shale Gas Subcommittee in the Department of Energy, told a reporter the economic benefits of gas drilling "massively outweigh" environmental and public health concerns. "If you do it right, the balance is enormously on the side of production," Deutch added.

However, Deutch and his committee were right to add caveats to their overall conclusions. Companies should release lists of chemicals used in "fracking" rock formations to release gas, the panel recommended (some already do that). More basic research on gas and drilling for it is needed, the committee stressed. And, as officials in many states already have recognized, drilling regulations need to be updated.

As far as the environmental impacts of fracking go, the panel stressed it "shares the prevailing view" that the practice poses a low risk to water supplies.

No doubt skeptics will condemn the report as overly friendly to the gas industry. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that the committee was formed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who certainly cannot be described as being in industry's hip pocket.

The committee's report is good news indeed - but its specific suggestions need to be stressed. Indeed, more emphasis should be placed on requiring gas companies to use "best practices" in drilling. Updated regulations, preferably at the state level, are needed badly.

And, as we have pointed out, the gas industry needs to be more attentive to certain issues, such as traffic safety involved in moving big, heavy trucks on rural roads.

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