According to many sources, fracking might just save the U.S. economy. In its Energy 2020 report, Citi GPS concluded that the "shale gas revolution" could result in the re-industrialization of America. Fracking has not only generated drilling related jobs and lowered the cost of natural gas for millions of businesses and consumers across the country, it has also spurred investment in large multi-billion dollar "cracking" facilities that convert natural gas into ethylene. Since ethylene is a base feedstock for polyethylene and other commodity plastics that are used by countless U.S. businesses, shale gas is expected to play a significant role in making U.S. businesses more competitive worldwide.
While there is optimism by many that fracking will pave the way for a "golden age of gas," there is also concern that fracking brings with it potential environmental and community health risks that must be properly addressed. The potential problems most frequently associated with fracking are (1) contamination of underground drinking water by the fracking fluids that are injected into the well; (2) contamination of surface waters (rivers and streams) from the flowback; and (3) contamination of air near the drilling pad during the fracking and well completion process. Additionally, concerns have also been expressed about the stressing of aquifers given the amount of water that is needed for fracking, especially in the Southwest.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has cautioned that these concerns, if not properly addressed, "threaten to hold back, and perhaps halt, the unconventional gas revolution." Given what is at stake, it should come as no surprise that many groups that have a vested interest in fracking have published recommended "Best Management Practices" (BMPs) for the industry. The groups include investors (e.g. the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN)), insurers (e.g. Willis Group Holdings), environmentalists (e.g. Earthworks), international cooperatives (e.g. the IEA), industry trade associations (e.g. the Appalacian Shale Recommended Practices Group and the American Petroleum Institute (API)) and energy companies (e.g. Chesapeake Energy and Halliburton). It also should come as no surprise that many of the federal and state regulations that have been enacted over the past year regarding fracking have incorporated these BMPs.
Although each set of BMPs is slightly different and evolving, the following 10 recommendations have been made repeatedly over the past year and reflect guidelines that energy companies will want to consider to minimize or eliminate the environmental risks mentioned above. Indeed, many within the industry have already implemented these guidelines without the need of state or federal regulations. In the process, they have reduced the risk of future litigation and portrayed themselves in more favorable light to investors, insurers, regulators and nearby communities.Leonard Kurfirst is a partner in the Litigation Department of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLC. As lead trial counsel for high-stakes class action, mass tort, toxic tort, product liability and health care litigation, he has more than 25 years of experience litigating complex cases in jurisdictions well known as difficult venues for defendants. Colin O'Donovan is an associate in the Litigation Department of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLC. He represents clients in a variety of commercial matters, including healthcare, insurance, and product liability actions. Both attorneys are based in Chicago.
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