Natural Gas: Finding Solutions

While the natural gas industry engages in a rocky public perception war, EDF continues to invite industry collaboration on development of more transparent, environmentally responsible drilling methods necessary to rebuild public trust.

In that regard, I appeared on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show this month to help emphasize the message that environmentalists and industry are not opposing forces on shale gas development.

My main points included:

  • From our perspective, there are risks associated with any natural energy resource. However, at Environmental Defense Fund we are realists and we realize that natural gas is part of a diverse energy portfolio. What we are concerned about is that regulations are not in place to effectively protect the public.
  • There are certain criteria that need to be addressed, namely: well construction and design, air emissions associated with oil and gas drilling, and what to do with the produced water once it is extracted.
  • We (EDF) have been working on those issues. The problem is that we need more industry support. We need industry to recognize that the public has legitimate, valid concerns and that if we work together, we can help solve some of these problems. For instance, air emissions can be reduced by capturing vapors from the storage tanks that have been a problem in the Barnett Shale area.

More evidence of our position and collaborative nature can be found in a recent National Geographic article, which highlights a joint industry-environmentalist model approach toward solving issues associated with shale gas drilling.

The article revealed how EDF’s Senior Policy Advisor Scott Anderson and Southwestern Energy’s Executive Vice President Mark Boling teamed up to find common ground on proposed model rules focusing on regulations that would ensure gas well integrity and underground water source protection.

“Our philosophy at EDF is that we don’t pick winners,” Anderson said. “We’re not fans of coal; we’re not fans of natural gas.”  We see our job as making sure that the technology and fuels that are relied on in the marketplace are regulated in a way that minimizes their environmental footprint.

Boling described how public perception was continuing to mount against shale gas drilling saying, “There was this fear-based campaign on one side, and on the other side, the industry is saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been doing this for 60 years, don’t worry about it, everything’s going to be just fine.’ But the reality is the public, as anyone would be, is going to be fearful of what they don’t know. There’s a huge vacuum of information about what is going on.”

After collaborating with EDF, Boling said, “The whole effort is to say ‘Here’s environmentalists and here’s industry, and we’re coming together, and we see a solution, at least to the subsurface issues, that we think is workable.’”

Yet another example of our position on shale natural gas drilling can be found in a column EDF’s Energy Program Chief Counsel Mark Brownstein recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

Mark reiterated the need for industry to be more open saying that “Building trust is crucial, and it begins with transparency.”

He also wrote: “If natural gas is to be a near-term solution for a clean energy future, the industry also must be much more rigorous in measuring, publicly reporting and fixing leaks in the production and distribution process . . . Cost-effective solutions for minimizing leaks exist. Many of these technologies have relatively quick paybacks. And the benefits work both ways: They can both reduce emissions and increase the bottom line of producers.”

The need for cooperation couldn’t be greater as questions are now being raised about the carbon benefits associated with natural gas.  A recent paper from Cornell University Professor Bob Howarth has put into question the perceived advantages of natural gas over coal.

EDF Senior Scientist Ramon Alvarez responded this week in The New York Times:

“Though we have questions about the study’s emissions estimates, it nevertheless highlights the critical importance of getting better data so that we can accurately characterize air pollution from natural gas development. If the industry wants people to trust that natural gas is a clean alternative, it should spend less time fighting pollution disclosure requirements and more time addressing environmental and public health concerns.”

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