A group of nine natural gas purchasers recently launched the Natural Gas Supply Collaborative (NGSC), a voluntary effort aimed at increasing transparency about how the gas they purchase is produced. The stated goals of the NGSC include promoting safe and responsible practices for the supply of natural gas and responding to stakeholder interest in production practices. MJ Bradley & Associates (an energy and environment consulting group with whom NRDC has worked in the past) convened and is managing the project.
The NGSC seeks to increase transparency around four key topics:
- Methane and air emissions;
- Chemical use; and,
- Community and Safety.
Under each topic area the NGSC asks natural gas producers to report on both qualitative performance indicators, which include measurable data on issues such as methane emissions, water use, spill frequency, community engagement, and worker injuries, and management strategy performance indicators, which are primarily qualitative and seek information on overall strategies that producers use to achieve performance-based outcomes.
Natural gas extraction practices can cause a broad range of harmful impacts, including to air, water, land, community character, and public health. Although the full measure of those impacts remains a subject of evolving science, many practices and technologies currently exist to reduce the known threats. Unfortunately, they are not uniformly adopted by producers voluntarily, nor are they uniformly required by law. And while some states and the federal government have recently taken steps to improve gas production regulations, many significant gaps remain and efforts are being made to roll back the protections that do exist.
The information the NGSC seeks to gather is an important first step toward learning what practices natural gas producers are using today, and how those practices could be improved to better protect the environment and public health. However, voluntary actions will never be a substitute for strong, enforceable regulations. And ultimately, we must phase out fossil fuels as a mainstay of our energy mix, and limit the exploration, development, and extraction of new fossil fuel reserves. We look forward to seeing the results of this effort and hope that natural gas buyers will use this as a springboard to ensure that the natural gas they purchase is more responsibly developed, in ways that reduce threats to public health and the environment and that respect the quality of life in local communities.
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