US chems welcome fracking study but caution on rule-making

12 August 2011 18:15  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US chemicals producers on Friday welcomed a Department of Energy (DOE) study on shale gas development, but they also cautioned against potential federal restrictions that could turn shale resources into “a story of unfulfilled promise”.

American Chemistry Council (ACC) president Cal Dooley said he was pleased that the department’s draft report on the use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in shale gas production recognised the crucial potential in newly expanded US natural gas resources.

He noted that the department’s fracking study cited “natural gas as a cornerstone of the US economy” and that shale gas development “has brought lower prices, domestic jobs and the prospect of enhanced national security”.

US petrochemical producers and downstream chemical makers are heavily dependent on natural gas as both a feedstock and energy fuel.

In addition, recent major expansions of shale gas production have helped restore a feedstock cost advantage for domestic chemicals producers in competition with overseas manufacturers dependent on higher priced petroleum-based naphtha.

Environmentalists and some in the US Congress have been pressing for federal regulation of and restrictions on fracking, charging that the technique contaminates underground water resources and causes surface and atmospheric damage as well.

The DOE study, a preliminary analysis produced by the department’s natural gas advisory panel, examines “improving the safety and environmental performance of hydraulic fracturing” and makes a series of recommendations.

The advisory group urged the natural gas industry to improve public access to information about the fracking process and its chemical components, help advance communication among state and federal regulators, and take steps to improve protections for air, water and communities near shale gas development fields.

“We echo the report’s support for use of best practices,” Dooley said.  “And we support efforts to make information about chemicals being used in shale gas production available to regulators and the public.”

However, he cautioned that “ensuring appropriate protections for proprietary information is vital” so that advances in fracking fluids are not undermined by unrestricted disclosure.

Newly abundant shale gas resources have been widely described as a game-changer for the US chemicals industry. 

But Dooley cautioned that shale gas production must be both responsible and robust if it will be “truly a game changer - driving new US investment, manufacturing and jobs - or a story of unfulfilled promise”.

He said his industry would continue to work with state legislators and regulators to ensure that any proposed regulations or laws support energy security and economic growth as well as environmental protections.

A final DOE report on fracking is to be published in November.

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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