By Mary Duenwald
After a nine-month study, a U.S. Department of Energy panel has issued strong recommendations to minimize air and water pollution from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the extraction of natural gas from deep rock.
As Bloomberg View recommended in a July 25 editorial, the panel advised that drilling companies immediately be compelled to disclose the full list of ingredients they use in fracking.
The technique involves pumping millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and an assortment of chemicals to create fissures in the rock and free up the gas. And if the drilling mixture spills on the surface -- in the disposal process, for example -- it can get into waterways.
Disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking would give public officials the information they need to search for the source of any suspected water contamination. And, as the panel noted, it would also improve public confidence in the technology.
The seven-member panel (which included six people with ties to the oil and natural gas industry) also agreed with Bloomberg View's argument that regulators need to ensure that fracking wastewater is tracked and carefully disposed of. The panel called on the federal government to spend $20 million to create a database of public information on fracking.
It further called on drilling companies to end all use of diesel fuel in fracking fluids, and said that strict new emissions standards should be established for methane, ozone-forming chemicals and other pollutants created by drilling operations. The panel also said the U.S. should finance research to develop the cleanest possible drilling techniques, perhaps paid for out of fees and taxes levied on the industry.
Those, too, are sound proposals. Unfortunately, the panel was unspecific about which agencies -- federal or state -- should issue the regulations it proposes, though it did note that the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for atmospheric emissions and underground waste disposal. Going forward, the EPA will need full authority to set national fracking-safety standards for the states to follow.
(Mary Duenwald is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)