Are Current Knowledge and Data Sufficient for Shale Gas Management?

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Marshall Ballroom South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Mitchell Small, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
The benefits and risks of unconventional oil and gas development generate considerable disagreement and conflict.  Proponents note that shale gas has already provided significant economic, air quality, and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, arguing that risks are modest and well-managed by industry standards and decentralized state regulations.  Opponents counter that “fracking” has been implemented with inadequate laws and safeguards to protect against harmful human health, environmental, and social impacts.  Would new scientific studies and monitoring data help clarify these differences, and perhaps provide a basis for improved, better-accepted management practices? 

In this presentation I review four recent studies designed to determine research needs and agendas to support effective risk assessment and management of unconventional oil and gas in the US, including:  1) the 2012-2013 National Research Council Committee on Risk Management and Governance Issues in Shale Gas Development;  2) the 2015 Health Effects Institute draft Strategic Research Agenda on Potential Impacts of 21st Century Oil and Natural Gas Development in the Appalachian Region and Beyond; the 2015 draft Joint US –UK Workshop on Improving the Understanding of the Potential Environmental Impacts Associated with Unconventional Hydrocarbons;  and 4) the 2015 draft US EPA Study of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources.  Key risk and research priorities put forth by these studies are identified and compared.  I then address the question:  Are there ways to design and implement these studies and monitoring programs to ensure that they address critical issues of local, state, national and global concern, and produce results and guidance that will be trusted across a broad set of stakeholders?