GAO examines shale reserves, environmental risks

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study Oct. 9 that examines the dramatic growth in development of shale gas and oil reserves in the United States and potential environmental and health risks.

Estimates of the size of shale oil and gas resources in the United States by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Potential Gas Committee––three organizations that estimate the size of these resources—have increased over the last five years, which could mean an increase in the nation’s energy portfolio.

For example, in 2012, EIA estimated that the amount of technically recoverable shale gas in the United States was 482 trillion cubic feet—an increase of 280% from EIA’s 2008 estimate.

This jump in shale energy production is largely due to new, advanced extraction techniques – namely new applications of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” In fracking, water, sand and chemical additives are injected under high pressure to create and maintain fractures in underground formations.

GAO was asked to determine what’s known about the size and scope of the shale resources and environmental and public health risks stemming from increased production.

“GAO is not making any recommendations in this report,” GAO said in the summary. “We provided a draft of this report to the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency for review,” GAO said.

The report had been requested by various members of Congress.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at