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'Fracking': Did Energy Department report clear up controversy?

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“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,” John Deutch, chairman of the Energy Department panel, said in a statement.

“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,” added Mr. Deutch, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and now a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Better data will help the industry “focus its investments, give the public the information it needs to effectively engage, and help regulators identify and address the most important problems,” Deutch continued. “We’re issuing a call for industry action, but we are not leaving it to industry alone.”

To ensure that groundwater and air quality are not harmed by the innovative drilling technique ­– which involves injecting millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals deep into the earth, the study said the industry must adopt industry “best practices.”

Key recommendations include:

• Conducting baseline measurements at each drilling site to establish the existing water quality in an area before drilling begins – and conducting continuous measurements of water quality throughout the development of the fracture well.

• Requiring companies to disclose the chemicals in fracturing fluid that are being injected into the ground. Drilling companies have so far mostly refused to disclose chemical composition under an exemption to environmental laws granted by Congress, claiming the formulas are proprietary secrets. Still, the panel recommends keeping “an exception for genuinely proprietary information” from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act disclosure requirements.

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