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Friday, May 3, 2013

CSIS publishes important report on unconventional gas development

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a bipartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.  that conducts research and policy analysis, has published a study: Realizing the Potential of U.S. Unconventional Natural Gas that seeks to capture the latest understanding of the unconventional gas development picture and develop themes and findings in the hope of facilitating an informed discussion on a path forward.”

The report’s Executive Summary presents six key findings: 
  1. The unconventional gas resource base is “enormous and readily available”, but industry and regulators “are in the early stages of learning how to optimize it.
  2. The development of the resource can create jobs, spur manufacturing, and create economic growth.
  3. Current supply of natural gas outpaces demand. Energy policies and natgas exports will stabilize development.
  4. There are no “show-stoppers” - unmanageable risks that would require reconsideration of current practices - but “understanding the risks and evolving cost-effective risk management approaches is a long-term, continuous process.  Public concern will continue to be “an important driver” of both public policy and commercial practices.
  5. Technology innovation is key to resource development, risk management, reducing environmental impact of development, and growing demand for natural gas.
  6. Public acceptance of unconventional gas development “is a critical issue, and the ability to manage risks must be demonstrated.”  Failure to gain this acceptance has resulted in moratoria or development or delays.  Transparency and available data are key. “Ultimately, communities must feel as though their interests are protected and advanced by the presence of unconventional gas development.” 
Continuous improvement is a recurring theme.  The paper makes these recommendations for states:

  • Primary regulatory responsibility lies with states, because of the diversity of geology, hydrology, and other factors.  However, “this does not preclude” federal oversight or setting of minimum standards.
  • States should review and update their regulations “to ensure the most effective standards are in place”on an ongoing basis. 
  • Auditing state regulations by third parties should be enhanced to assist regulators and build public confidence.
  • Publicly available data on drilling – including baseline data on water, air, seismicity – must be continually enhanced and improved.
  • State level regulation, engagement, and study must be transparent.
  • Adopt a comprehensive, holistic approach to issue management

The paper makes these recommendations for Federal action:
  • Set a detailed energy narrative for the country that articulates clear role for natural gas.
  • Finalize studies and regulations.
  • Ensure coordination of federal agencies with natgas roles and monitor key issues. 
  • Use key federal agencies to get more and improved data on cumulative impacts. 
  • Promote R&D to improve resource recovery and environmental performance; and explore industrial and vehicle use. 
  • Make a decision on natgas exports
  • Improve regulatory certainty by facilitating collaboration among states, industry, and technology providers to develop best practices and regionally applicable regulations.

The paper makes these recommendations for industry:
  • “Companies must operate at the highest standard.” 
  • Develop, implement, and communicate best practices. 
  • Continually improve technology to reduce risks. 
  • Fully, transparently, and continually engage communities.

The report is a useful guide that meets its aim.

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