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DOE panel: Reveal shale gas drilling chemicals

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- A U.S. Department of Energy panel wants energy companies to reveal all the chemicals they use in a drilling technique that has allowed them to reach huge and previously inaccessible deposits of natural gas and paved the way for tens of thousands of new wells but that critics say could poison water supplies.

The report was keyed to the focus of gas drilling companies on the Marcellus Shale, a massive rock formation underlying New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

The panel, convened by Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the request of President Barack Obama, contends there's little risk that the chemicals injected thousands of feet underground will ever reach shallow drinking water aquifers.

But with increasing public concern about the drilling process, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, there's no reason why companies can't publicly disclose all the ingredients, the panel said in a report being released Thursday.

"In our judgment, they should disclose the entire suite of chemicals," except in "very rare" instances in which chemicals are judged to be truly proprietary, said John Deutch, chairman of the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board.

The panel said there are more pressing concerns associated with intensive shale gas extraction, chief among them air pollution, contamination of drinking water by stray methane and surface spills of chemicals, disruption to communities where intensive gas production is taking place and cumulative negative impacts over decades.

Without a coordinated, systematic approach to shale gas development, widespread drilling has the potential to harm public health, the environment and people's quality of life "even when individual operators conduct their activities in ways that meet and exceed regulatory requirements," the report said.

Among its other recommendations, the subcommittee:

Said drillers should take immediate additional steps to reduce air emissions and protect groundwater supplies.

Called for improved regulation and the establishment of an industry group to determine and promote best practices.


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