Moniz: Natural gas risks can be ‘managed’

WASHINGTON — Environmental concerns surrounding domestic natural gas production are surmountable, Enregy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Wednesday.

As U.S. production of the fossil fuel has climbed, so have concerns about the environmental footprint of drilling operations and systems that transport natural gas across the country.

Conservationists worry about water contamination from natural gas escaping from poorly secured wells and the chemicals used in its extraction. Environmentalists also are concerned about methane leaks at the well pad and in the transmission systems undermining the potential climate benefits of power plants switching from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.

“Issues around environmental footprint have to be resolved,” Moniz told the U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering in Washington. “Although there are a lot of data that still need to be collected, if you look at the challenges that are out there, each one of them looks challenging but manageable.”

Moniz acknowledged problems in the past. “Best practices have not always been applied all the time,” he said bluntly.

“The job is to get out there and manage those environmental impacts,” he said, and “one way or another, get best practices in place all the time, everywhere.”

The Obama administration has pledged to combat methane emissions associated with natural gas production. One major challenge is the paucity of pipelines that can carry natural gas away from wells in North Dakota, where the fossil fuel is effectively a byproduct extracted along with the more valuable crude.

Barack Obama has used his presidential pulpit to tout the promise of natural gas, asserting that safe development of the fossil fuel will generate jobs along with a long-lasting energy supply.

Moniz later declined to give reporters a specific timetable for the government’s interagency review of ways to curb methane emissions — a project launched as part of Obama’s climate action plan last June. “We’re working on it,” he said.

Methane, one of the largest components of the fossil fuel, is a potent greenhouse gas that is 72 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the first two decades after it is released.