Chairman Bingaman on Shale Gas

October 4, 2011
10:36 AM
“Thank you for coming.  The purpose of today’s hearing is to receive testimony on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s Shale Gas Production Subcommittee’s 90 day report.
“In recent years, a number of factors have raised the prominence of natural gas as a resource. New applications of technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have led to more domestic natural gas production and led to a reassessment of the U.S. technically recoverable resources. The international focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has favored the lower carbon intensity of natural gas for power generation. The recent tragedy in Japan at the Fukushima nuclear plant has led both Japanese and German officials to speak strongly about fuel switching to natural gas to replace, or at least to supplement, their remaining nuclear fleet. Concerns about our dependence on foreign oil have led some to propose switching our cars and trucks from imported gasoline and diesel fuel to domestic natural gas. Proponents of domestic manufacturing have argued that a larger, more stable gas supply at competitive prices will lead to a resurgence of investment in manufacturing in this country.
“The promise of expanded domestic natural gas resources comes with a responsibility to address environmental concerns as well as human health and safety issues.  Those concerns arise with increased natural gas exploration and production -- particularly in areas that have not previously experienced a natural gas boom. The public has increasingly expressed concern about the wastewater management of flowback fluids from natural gas wells, as well as the potential for groundwater contamination.  Residents who live on top of or adjacent to the shale gas resources have also expressed concerns about the potential for noise pollution, diminished air quality and contamination of water resources.
“Recently, there has been increased scrutiny of fugitive methane emissions occurring during the natural gas extraction process.  Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that if even a small fraction of the overall natural gas extracted escapes to the atmosphere, the overall greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas usage increase substantially. Some experts have claimed that fugitive emissions from natural gas extraction are routinely high enough that switching to natural gas could actually be worse than continuing to use coal, while many other experts have disputed these claims. If natural gas is to be used as a lower-carbon alternative to other fossil fuels, the issue of fugitive emissions is one that we must quantify, understand more fully, and address appropriately. 
“I expect the environmental and human health and safety concerns related to developing unconventional gas resources can be managed, but only if they are addressed through a transparent, diligent and safe approach to well site and wastewater management throughout each stage of the gas extraction process.  I believe that is what we will be addressing here today as we hear from the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee Members concerning their recently released 90-day report.  We are very fortunate to have this panel of experts.  Let me turn to Senator Murkowski before I introduce them.”
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