Shale Sustainability Program

“Recent rapid expansion of shale gas (and oil) production and renewable energy development in Texas is making natural gas an increasingly important player in the transition to a lower carbon-intensive energy system. While we cannot ignore the associated concerns and risks, we also cannot ignore the potential for progress if we ‘get gas right.’”

-Douglas J. Arent, Executive Director of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis

When sustainably produced, natural gas for electricity production can provide net environmental benefits when compared to coal and other fossil fuels. In 2015, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation committed our fifth year of funding to our Shale Sustainability Program in an effort to capture the environmental and economic benefits of shale resources in Texas while mitigating the risks associated with shale development. 

In order to achieve this goal, CGMF focused on three priority initiatives: (1) promoting stronger Texas drilling regulations and efforts in states that support Texas's practices, (2) conducting focused research on water risks and impacts, and (3) minimizing the air and carbon dioxide emissions from, and water use for, electricity production. 

On August 18, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first federal regulations requiring the nation’s oil and gas industry to cut emissions of methane as part of an expanding effort to combat climate change. The EPA aims to reduce methane emissions by about 45 percent by 2025 from agriculture, landfills, and oil and gas activities combined. 

CGMF issued a public statement in support of the proposed regulation, citing the foundation’s commitment to reducing the negative environmental and community risks from oil and gas development. Previously the foundation hosted a series of meetings between EPA and Texas regulatory and industry leaders to facilitate communication in the design of the draft rule.

In 2015, the Aspen Institute worked with CGMF on the second phase of the Texas Regulatory Modernization Initiative. As part of the Initiative, the Aspen Institute and CGMF convened two forums, one on Shale Development and Water Resources in Texas to examine the complex relationship between water resources and shale development in Texas specifically and one on Modern Shale Gas and Oil Production more broadly. The overarching goal of these forums was to create space for candid discussion and creative thinking that brings recognition, clarity, and predictability to how regulators and market operators manage environmental risks or impacts that may arise from shale gas and oil production. The forums brought together a select group of experts with diverse experiences and perspectives—including state regulators, industry executives, environmentalists, academics, and other thought leaders—to examine policies and practices being adopted for the prudent development of unconventional hydrocarbons such as shale gas. 

Water scarcity is becoming a critical issue in semiarid regions of Texas. In areas where energy development is ongoing, water resources are even more important. With support from CGMF, The University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology (UT BEG) is compiling data on water use for hydraulic fracturing in the Permian Basin. They are working with FracFocus, a hydraulic fracturing chemical registry website, to resolve some problems with the database, including an underreporting of water use. UT BEG is working with industry representatives and others to develop appropriate access to water data in order to develop optimal approaches for water management for hydraulic fracturing. 

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) also recognizes the importance of water use in hydraulic fracturing, and they launched a new water science initiative in 2015 aimed at improving our understanding of the potential impacts of oil and gas wastes and wastewaters on land, water, and communities. Initial efforts are focused on characterizing the pollutants potentially present in the 800 billion gallons of wastewater generated and managed by industry each year and investigating novel and efficient treatment technologies to ensure that alternative uses of treated wastewater do not harm humans or the environment. 

With support from CGMF, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is advancing several strategies to put solutions in place that will significantly reduce the health, environmental, and climate risks associated with natural gas production, distribution, and use. Their goal is to cut system-wide methane emissions to less than 1% of total production within the next five years. One part of this effort is engaging leading energy companies to test and adopt robust methane detection technology. Methane monitors can help the oil and gas industry better detect, and ultimately reduce, methane emissions. EDF is currently working with oil and gas companies on a Methane Detectors Challenge.

© 2012-2018 Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.