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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Facebook: the answer to fracking’s PR problems. Seriously?

Is Facebook the answer to quelling public angst about fracking?

According to this disturbing, must-read, headshake-inducing article, some seemingly smart people seem to think so. And they could not be more wrong.

At an industry event this week, Reaganesque messaging (already ubiquitous from industry) and heavy use of social media were identified by advertising executives and communications pros as key tools in winning over the majority of Americans to the benefits of fracking.  And as usual, Pennsylvania was mentioned prominently as a source of "intense passions" that characterize the issue.

But can the gas industry really tweet its way to drilling nirvana?

There is far too much hyperbole on all sides of the series of monologues that define the current, sorry state of public conversation about fracking; indeed about energy policy generally. Proponents and opponents of fracking are equally to blame. There is obviously more than a little hubris at work in industry. But let’s hope the industry is – or quickly becomes - smarter that their consulted flaks are.

Saying the right things is not the same as doing them. Sincerity is subject to proof. And that proof of the gas industry’s net benefit to society – much of it yet unrealized, and yet to be fully measured against fully-understood costs - will come only in the doing – which includes a willing embrace of the rules that ensure it.  

Finding the rational middle on energy in Pittsburgh on August 22nd

I will be speaking on a panel after a special screening of the Rational Middle Energy Series on Wednesday, August 22 at 5:30 in the August Wilson Center, 928 Liberty Ave in downtown Pittsburgh.

Seeing ourselves as others see us: China and fracking

Ho Chi-Ping, former secretary for home affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HSKR) government, opines in today's China Daily that potential health and environmental problems associated with fracking may argue against a shale gas boom in China, despite enormous reserves.

Chi-Ping cites a list of familiar issues as reasons for caution:  
And this: 

“In the absence of strong regulation,” Chi-Ping writes, “companies are under no obligation to take measures to protect the environment. Thus health and environmental risks may go undetected.  The situation in the United States should shed some light on what China will require to monitor and counter any environmental risks…(F)racking regulation, even in the United States, is not yet mature enough to protect the environment.”

While recognizing the economic development potential of shale gas development, Chi-Ping also recognizes the temporary local nature of some benefits, as well as their uneven distribution

Chi-Ping concludes: 

“The concerns I have raised above do not discredit fracking as an option for China. Natural gas and shale exploration may become an integral part of China’s energy consumption. But…(fracking) comes with potentially severe costs that need to be recognized. As we try to move towards a sustainable form of development, we need to be careful that we do not replace one set of environmental problems with another.”

All of the concerns can be addressed. Will China – and the United States – have the political and industrial will - and the foresight - to do so?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Deutch calls on gas industry to measure, report, and improve environmental performance

In an opinion piece titled “The U.S. Natural-Gas Boom Will Transform the World published August 14 in The Wall Street Journal, John Deutch, a distinguished public servant and academic who chaired the Shale Gas Subcommittee (SGS) of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, called on the natural gas industry to measure its environmental performance, publicly disclose that performance, and commit to continuously improving it.

Deutch wrote:

Industry should be commended for its initiatives to assure the public about its attention to environmental concerns, but industry leaders can go further. They should adopt a policy of measuring key environmental indicators such as water use and water composition throughout the process—from initial acquisition to retention in lined surface ponds or tanks, disposition in deep waste water wells, re-use in subsequent fracturing operations, or treatment. The key is to gather performance data from the field, publicly disclose these measurements, and commit to continuous improvement as this industry grows. 

Deutch’s call comes nine months after he SGS’ final report that found little progress being made on the urgent priorities outlined in its initial report of August, 2011. Clearly, the lack of progress persists.

Mr. Deutch is not alone in that assessment.  Earlier this year, fifty five major investment organizations and institutional investors with nearly $1 trillion in assets under management made a similar call, and offered a model for how gas companies could meet it.

The messages are clear. Is anyone listening?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

FracFocus falls short. Way short.

FracFocus has been offered up by industry and government officials alike as the model of transparency and the solution to chemical disclosure around hydraulic fracturing. But there are egregious shortcomings in FracFocus reporting by drilling companies, and in FracFocus disclosure policies. This report from Bloomberg and this blog post by NRDC's Amy Mall are must-reads that provide the particulars.

Voluntary reporting and self-policing do not work, and serve only to further public angst about unconventional gas exploration.  It does the industry no good, and it certainly does not provide the public benefits claimed.

There is no substitute for government regulation and laws requiring full transparency about the gas industry's chemical use.