"The environmentally responsible manner in which the extraction of natural gas from Marcellus Shale occurs will bring countless jobs to West Virginia," Tomblin said in announcing the task force.
But the Tyndall researchers report that "Evidence from the U.S. suggests shale-gas extraction brings a significant risk of ground- and surface-water contamination" serious enough to warrant "a precautionary approach to development" as the "only responsible action."
"The depth of shale gas gives rise to major challenges in identifying categorically pathways of contamination of groundwater by chemicals used in the extraction process," the report said.
"An analysis of these substances suggests that many have toxic, carcinogenic or hazardous properties," the report said. "There is considerable anecdotal evidence from the U.S. that contamination of both ground- and surface-water has occurred in a range of cases."
The Tyndall report noted that the Bush administration successfully pushed to exempt hydraulic fracturing from key water quality regulations, and that the Obama administration launched a major U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of the potential impacts of the practice.
Following a "precautionary principle" adopted by members of the European Union, the report says, "shale gas exploitation should be delayed until at least after the EPA has reported and, depending on the findings, perhaps longer."
Tyndall researchers found "little to suggest that shale gas will play a key role as a transition fuel in the move to a low-carbon economy.
"There is little evidence from data on the U.S. that shale gas is currently, or expected to, substitute at any significant level for coal use," the report said. "By contrast, projections suggest it will continue to be used in addition to coal in order to satisfy increasing energy demand.
"It is important to stress that shale gas would only be a low-carbon fuel source if allied with as yet unproven carbon capture and storage technologies."
The report says that the "rapid carbon reductions" needed to deal with global warming "require major investment in zero-carbon technologies and this could be delayed by exploitation of shale gas."
"The investment required to exploit shale gas will be substantial," the report says. "In relation to reducing carbon emissions this investment would be much more effective if targeted at genuinely zero or very low carbon technologies. If money is invested in shale gas then there is a real risk that this could delay the development and deployment of such technologies."