Natural Gas Boom Brings Environmental Concerns




By Patti Domm, CNBC Executive News Editor

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- The shale gas energy industry needs to put in place better practices and reporting about " fracking" before public concerns delay or even stop use of the technology that has created a boom in U.S. natural gas production, according to the MIT professor who led President Obama's subcommittee on shale gas.

John Deutch, also former DOE director of energy research, in the Carter Administration, told a gathering at the annual CERAWeek energy conference Monday night that the shale gas revolution is the most important development in the North American oil and gas industry in the 50 years he's been involved with it.

"I want to stress the tremendous benefits that will come to all Americans if we do this in the right way," he said. If the environmental impacts are not addressed , there is a "very real" chance the industry could be "delayed or even stopped because of public concerns."

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Some industry experts at the conference portrayed an industry benefiting from technology faster than regulators can keep up with it. There is now shale gas production in 32 states, and about a third of U.S. natural gas comes from shale, up from just 2 percent in 2000, because of innovations made in fracking and horizontal drilling.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the use of highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals to free from rock otherwise unattainable natural gas. The technology is credited with giving the U.S. an estimated 100 years of natural gas supply when just several years ago it was expected the U.S. would be a net importer of natural gas. But it is also being blamed for contaminating water supply and seismic activity. One point of public concern has been the lack of reporting on the content of the chemicals used.

Deutch's committee made a series of recommendations, and they covered concerns about water quality and management, air quality and air effects and community impacts.

"The entire issue has to do with active implementations of measures in the field to measure and report," he said. He added that since his report was released last year, there has been little change in the field on the issue of environmental impact.