More Environmental Rules Needed for Shale Gas, Says Stanford Geophysicist
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama praised the potential of the country’s tremendous supply of natural gas buried in shale. He echoed the recommendations for safe extraction made by an advisory panel that included Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback. The panel made 20 recommendations for regulatory reform, some of which go well beyond what the president mentioned in his address
“The problem is that the president only has jurisdiction over federal lands, while states regulate development on private land, where most of the shale formations are found,” Zoback said. “The so-called ‘Halliburton exclusion’ passed by Congress says gas companies don’t have to disclose the chemicals in fracturing fluids. That was a real mistake because it makes the public needlessly paranoid.”
The chemical additives used during hydraulic fracturing are really not a serious issue, Zoback said at the Precourt Institute for Energy’s weekly Energy Seminar. The problem lies elsewhere: Once water is injected into the shale, it can pick up naturally occurring selenium, arsenic and iron, a lot of salt and even radioactive particles. Thus, when this water flows back up the well, it has to be disposed of properly. What gas companies do with that water is a serious regulatory problem. Typically, they either reuse it or inject it into deep saline aquifers, Zoback said, and regulators must monitor the safe disposal of the water.