A Dept. of Energy advisory panel says that it accepts the “prevailing” view that hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is unlikely to contaminate drinking water sources, but called for the government and industry to take steps to ensure that the gas is retrieved in a way that minimizes negative environmental impacts.

 In draft recommendations released on August 11, the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board called for industry leadership in improving environmental performance, underpinned by strong regulations and rigorous enforcement of those regulations.

The subcommittee was formed at the request of President Obama this spring to study how the United States could tap the large reserves of natural shale gas while addressing the questions raised by environmental groups and others about the safety of the methods used to extract and produce the gas.

The recommendations released on Aug. 11 are a blueprint for immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas production.

The panel will issue a final report before the end of the year.

Key recommendations include systematic measurement of methane and other air emissions during shale gas production to improve air quality and taking immediate steps to reduce those emissions using proven technologies and practices.

Additionally, the panel called on shale gas production companies as well as the agencies that regulate them to make information about shale gas production operations more accessible to the public through a new national database.

Increased transparency and a focus on best practices “benefits all parties in shale gas production: regulators will have more complete and accurate information, industry will achieve more efficient operations and the public will see continuous, measureable, improvement in shale gas activities, the report says.

“As shale gas grows and becomes an increasingly important part of our nation’s energy supply, it is crucial to bring a better understanding of the environmental impacts—both current and potential—and ensure that they are properly addressed,” Subcommittee Chairman John Deutch says.

“The current output of shale gas and its potential for future growth emphasize the need to assure that this supply is produced in an environmentally sound fashion, and in a way that meets the needs of public trust.”

Kathryn Klaber, president and executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an organization focused on the responsible development of the Marcellus Shale geological formation that spans from West Virginia and parts of Ohio into New York, lauded the DOE panel’s approach as “solution-oriented.”

She says, “Taken together, these fact-based recommendations represent yet another key step toward ensuring that common-sense policies must be in place to ensure that American natural gas development continues to be balanced with the proper environmental safeguards.”

But the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C., says the report lacks substance.

In a statement, EWG said, “In calling for more transparency and better communication concerning the impact of fracking and horizontal drilling…the 41-page report casts the environmental concerns over fracking as largely a public relations problem….The message to voters in key swing states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina appears to be that the administration is not as concerned with the real problems their communities face as a result of fracking as it is with maintaining the industry’s growth and improving its ineffective communication.”