Shale Gas Regulation-Univ. of Texas study

Univ. of TX study de-bunked:

Fracking-Study Conflicts Prompt Head of Institute to Quit – Bloomberg.


Shale Gas Regulation.

Separating Fact from Fiction in Shale Gas Development

Shale Gas Regulation Press Release Shale Gas Regulation Booklet Shale Gas Regulation Report Summary Shale Gas Regulation Full Report Shale Gas Regulation Experts at UT Shale Gas Regulation Video Clips
Note: Click the above images to view exclusive Energy Institute documents on the subject of Shale Gas Development. These documents include include: (1) Press Release; (2) Booklet; (3) Report Summary; (4) Full Report; (5) List of Experts at UT; and (6) Links to Video Clips.

Assessing the Real and Perceived Consequences of Shale Gas Development

The astonishing surge in domestic natural gas production, brought on by the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, has transformed the outlook for U.S. energy. Conservative estimates project the use of these techniques in shale gas development will all but assure a clean and affordable natural gas supply for generations to come, creating new jobs and enhancing our nation’s energy security.

That sanguine view has been tempered, however, by concerns that hydraulic fracturing may contaminate groundwater and pose other threats to public health. While little evidence exists directly linking the practice to environmental harm, such fears have ignited a controversy that has dominated public discourse on the issue. In fact, some areas have halted shale gas development altogether, at least temporarily.

Shale Gas Regulation Booklet

Click the above image to view the Shale Gas Regulation booklet.

In response, the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin funded an independent study of hydraulic fracturing in shale gas development to inject science into a highly charged emotional debate.

For this study, the Energy Institute assembled an interdisciplinary team of university experts to examine a broad array of issues associated with hydraulic fracturing in three prominent shale plays — the Barnett Shale, in north Texas; the Marcellus Shale, in Pennsylvania, New York and portions of Appalachia; and the Haynesville Shale, in western Louisiana and northeast Texas.

The Energy Institute team investigated an array of issues related to shale gas development, including groundwater contamination, toxicity of hydraulic fracturing fluids, surface spills, atmospheric emissions, water use, drilling waste disposal, blowouts, and road traffic and noise.

The goal of this research is to provide policymakers a fact-based foundation upon which they can formulate rational regulatory policies that ensure responsible shale gas development.

Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development

For this study, the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin assembled a team of experts with broad experience and expertise, from geology and environmental law to public affairs and communications. In addition to university faculty, the Environmental Defense Fund was actively involved in developing the scope of work and methodology for this study, and reviewed final work products.

Dr. Charles Groat

Dr. Charles Groat

Under the leadership of Institute Associate Director Dr. Charles “Chip” Groat, researchers examined three critical areas related to shale gas development:

  • Environmental and health effects related to all phases of shale gas development in the Barnett, Marcellus and Haynesville shale plays, including hydraulic fracturing, groundwater contamination and air emissions. Where problems were reported, researchers determined the actual cause of problems, based on a review of scientific and other literature.
  • Public perceptions of shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing, as well as the tone of popular media — positive, negative, or neutral.
  • State and federal regulations related to shale gas development, including an analysis of individual states’ capacity to enforce existing regulations.

“Our mission is to alter the trajectory of public discourse in a positive manner, as exemplified in our credo — good policy based on good science.” – Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Director, Energy Institute, The University of Texas at Austin.

Video Clips Featuring UT Experts

Dr. Raymond L. Orbach

Dr. Raymond L. Orbach

In these clips, Drs. Orbach and Groat discuss preliminary findings from the Energy Institute’s study on hydraulic fracturing: “Fact-­Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development.”

Click on the following video clips to view:

The following is an overview of key findings from the Energy Institute’s study.

Scientific Investigation into Groundwater Contamination and Other Environmental Impacts

The public debate over hydraulic fracturing in shale gas production has been marked by fears that the process will contaminate groundwater. Concerns also have been raised that underground methane releases are contaminating water wells.

Though little scientific evidence exists to support such claims, policymakers in some areas have banned the practice, and others have imposed moratoriums on shale gas development until additional research is conducted.

For this report, the Energy Institute research team focused on reports of groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts of shale gas exploration and production in states within the Barnett, Marcellus and Haynesville shales.

Key Findings:

  • Researchers found no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing chemicals in the subsurface by fracturing operations, and observed no leakage from hydraulic fracturing at depth.
  • Many reports of groundwater contamination occur in conventional oil and gas operations (e.g., failure of well-bore casing and cementing) and are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.
  • Methane found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can most likely be traced to natural sources, and likely was present before the onset of shale gas operations.
  • Surface spills of fracturing fluids appear to pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself.
  • Blowouts — uncontrolled fluid releases during construction or operation — are a rare occurrence, but subsurface blowouts appear to be under-reported.

Regulation of Shale Gas Development

Researchers surveyed federal and state laws and regulations related to shale gas development in 16 states that have or are expected to have shale gas production. This analysis covered all major phases of the shale gas lifecycle — exploration, well siting, drilling and fracturing, production, well plugging, and site closure.

The research team also examined several exemptions of shale gas development from federal environmental laws, including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Key Findings:

  • Primary regulatory authority for shale gas is at the state level, and many federal requirements have been delegated to the states.
  • Most state oil and gas regulations were written well before shale gas development became widespread.
  • Some states have revised regulations specifically for shale gas development, with particular focus on three areas of concern:
    • Disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals
    • Proper casing of wells to prevent aquifer contamination
    • Management of wastewater from flowback and produced water
  • Gaps remain in the regulation of well casing and cementing, water withdrawal and usage, and waste storage and disposal.
  • Regulations should focus on the most urgent issues, such as spill prevention — which may pose greater risk than hydraulic fracturing itself.

Enforcement of State Regulations

Shale Gas Extraction Illustration

Click the above image to view the illustration

Researchers also reviewed state agencies’ enforcement capabilities, including a review of staff responsible for conducting inspections and attorneys supporting enforcement. The review covered violations recorded, enforcement actions, field sampling, and monitoring.

Key Findings:

  • Enforcement capacity is highly variable among the states, particularly when measured by the ratio of staff to numbers of inspections conducted.
  • Most violations recorded are of the type associated with conventional gas drilling rather than being specific to hydraulic fracturing and shale gas production.
  • Enforcement actions tend to emphasize surface incidents more than subsurface contaminant releases, perhaps because they are easier to observe.

Public Perception of Shale Gas Development

Public Perception of Shale Gas DevelopmentEnergy Institute researchers analyzed print, broadcast and online news media coverage of shale gas development in the Marcellus, Haynesville, and Barnett shale areas. They found that the tone of media coverage has been overwhelmingly negative in all forms of media. Roughly two-thirds of the articles and stories examined were deemed negative, a finding that was consistent nationally and at local levels.

Researchers also found that less than 20% of newspaper articles on hydraulic fracturing mention scientific research related to the issue. Similarly, only 25% of broadcast news stories examined made reference to scientific studies, and about 33% of online news coverage mentioned scientific research on the issue.

Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure

Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure.

Natural gas is seen by many as the future of American energy: a fuel
that can provide energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas
emissions in the process. However, there has also been confusion about
the climate implications of increased use of natural gas for electric
power and transportation. We propose and illustrate the use of
technology warming potentials as a robust and transparent way to
compare the cumulative radiative forcing created by alternative
technologies fueled by natural gas and oil or coal by using the best
available estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from each fuel cycle
(i.e., production, transportation and use). We find that a shift to
compressed natural gas vehicles from gasoline or diesel vehicles leads
to greater radiative forcing of the climate for 80 or 280 yr,
respectively, before beginning to produce benefits. Compressed natural
gas vehicles could produce climate benefits on all time frames if the
well-to-wheels CH4 leakage were capped at a level 45–70% below current
estimates. By contrast, using natural gas instead of coal for electric
power plants can reduce radiative forcing immediately, and reducing
CH4 losses from the production and transportation of natural gas would
produce even greater benefits. There is a need for the natural gas
industry and science community to help obtain better emissions data
and for increased efforts to reduce methane leakage in order to
minimize the climate footprint of natural gas.

U.S. GAO – Energy-Water Nexus: Information on the Quantity, Quality, and Management of Water Produced during Oil and Gas Production

U.S. GAO – Energy-Water Nexus: Information on the Quantity, Quality, and Management of Water Produced during Oil and Gas Production.

Air emissions near natural gas drilling sites may contribute to health problems

Air emissions near natural gas drilling sites may contribute to health problems.

Polish Geological Institute Study Finds Fracking is Safe | Marcellus Drilling News

Polish Geological Institute Study Finds Fracking is Safe | Marcellus Drilling News.

MIT Report Finds Fracking is Safe | Marcellus Drilling News

MIT Report Finds Fracking is Safe | Marcellus Drilling News.

MIT Report Finds Fracking is Safe

Last June, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a 178-page report called “The Future of Natural Gas” (a copy of the full report is embedded below). Somehow this report escaped MDN’s notice at the time. Seeing that it’s conclusions are that hydraulic fracturing is safe, MDN understands why mainstream media outlets don’t endlessly promote it and quote from it as they do from journal articles penned by anti-drilling professors like Robert Howarth and Tony Ingraffea making outrageous claims like natural gas is worse for the environment than coal (see this MDN story).


The report is the fourth in a series of MIT reports examining the role of various energy sources that may be important for meeting future demand under carbon dioxide emissions constraints. In each case, as with this report, MIT looks at what is needed for energy sources to remain competitive if and when CO2 emissions are taxed. That is, how will this energy source stack up if there’s a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

Among the many interesting findings in the report are these:

With over 20,000 shale wells drilled in the last 10 years, the environmental record of shale gas development has for the most part been a good one — but it is important to recognize the inherent risks and the damage that can be caused by just one poor operation. (page 39)

The fracturing process itself poses minimal risk to the shallow groundwater zones that may exist in the upper portion of the wellbore. (page 40)

The physical realities of the fracturing process, combined with the lack of reports from the many wells to date of fracture fluid contamination of groundwater, supports the assertion that fracturing itself does not create environmental concerns. (page 41)

The report also finds that it’s very likely we’ll see an increase in the number of compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles due to the abundance of cheap natural gas.

It’s a fascinating report. Take time to at least scan it.

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Related posts:

  1. Polish Geological Institute Study Finds Fracking is Safe
  2. PA DEP Tests for Air Pollution at Gas Drilling Sites – Finds None
  3. Sustainable Investments Institute Issues Report on Fracking


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