The Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of the Energy Advisory Board  released their draft report  today, which outlines immediate actions to improve the health and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. The report, a culmination of 90 days of research, is a part of President Obama’s larger plan for unconventional gas in his “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future .”
The panel, handpicked by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, is directed to investigate the safety of shale gas development and to make recommendations for both improvements to the process as well as ‘best practice’ strategies that can act as recommendations to relevant agencies.
The 41-page report  makes clear the conviction that the current state of distrust surrounding the gas industry is bad for business. The industry, the panel suggests, needs to become more transparent, well-regulated and engaged. “And industry response that hydraulic fracturing has been performed safely for decades rather than engaging the issues concerning the public will not succeed.”
Besides, the report goes on, modern hydraulic fracturing has really only been performed since 2002 or 2003 and not since the 1940’s .
Despite the panel’s recommendations to make the gas production process more transparent to the public, there is still a strong industry back-bone running throughout the report’s body.
Weighing the pros and cons of shale gas production against environmental risks is of no interest to the panel. Oh, the drilling will happen, they say, but we need to also “give the public concrete reason to believe that environmental impacts will be reduced and well managed on an ongoing basis, and that problems will be mitigated and rapidly corrected, if and when they occur” and so on and so forth.
The committee leaves this responsibility largely to the industry itself while making no mention of repealing the numerous exemptions enjoyed by industry at the federal level, nor the instances of industry capture of regulators at the state level.
The constitution of the panel has come under severe scrutiny for its industry-supportive bias. There is little to no independent, scientific representation on the board – that doesn’t already have strong ties to the industry.
Yesterday, scientists from 22 universities in 13 states voiced their concerns over the partiality of the panel , which they claim is “performing advocacy-based science.” As the letter outlines, 6 of the 7 panel members still have strong financial ties to the oil and gas industry, like the panel chairman John Deutch, who received more than $1.4 million from two leading gas companies , Chinere and Slumberger between 2006 and 2009 alone. Deutch currently sits on the board of directors at Chinere.
As such, the group worries that the panel will in fact “serve industry at taxpayer expense rather than serving President Obama and the public with credible advice.”
Notable signatories of the letter include Dr. Robert Howarth, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, and Dr. Sandra Steigraber.
The letter is reminiscent of a July 13 letter  signed by 109 community and environmental representatives also asking for the Secretary’s reconsideration of panel members due to their “substaintial financial ties” to the industry.
Both letters make the specific and base demand that John Deutch step down from the panel.
Food and Water Watch , in a statement released today, condemns the report  for leaving the important task of overseeing hydraulic fracturing and gas production to the industry itself. The report, according to the release, “downplays the concerns of those affected by fracking - communities that have been turned into sacrifice zones at the expense of the natural gas industry’s desire to turn a profit.”
“We know that industry has gone to great lengths to influence local governments, and even greater lengths to avoid culpability at a nation level. Why should we let the industry police itself while leaving localities to fight for themselves?” writes Wenonah Hauter, Food and Water Watch executive director .
The report suggests that funding at the federal level could help the gas industry develop the kinds of ‘best practices’ needed to avoid unnecessary social or environmental side effects of gas drilling. “The federal government should be taking an active role in protecting consumers and the environment from hydraulic fracturing, not throwing money at a destructive and unprofitable industry,” says Hauter.
The panel’s report is only the first installment of its project. The full Committee report will be released mid-November. Comments on the draft report  will be received until noon August 15.