Obama Taps Panel of Experts to Make Hydrofracking Cleaner, Safer

Former CIA director John Deutch will lead a panel of experts in seeking out solutions to the safety and environmental threats posed by hydraulic fracturing. (image: darkgovernment.com)

Following up on the vision of wider but more cautious tapping of America’s vast natural gas reserves that he laid out in March, President Obama has called on a group of experts to explore how to make gas drilling safer.  The New York Times reported on Friday that the Department of Energy, at the direction of the president, has convened a diverse panel of experts to come up with solutions to the threat hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. hydrofracking) poses to underground sources of drinking water.

Hydrofracking has been identified as the key to accessing decades’ worth of natural gas supplies currently locked beneath rock formations in the eastern and western US.  As the use of fracking has expanded rapidly in recent years, so has domestic natural gas production.  And because propane and other NGLs are byproducts of gas drilling, increased gas extraction has boosted propane supplies substantially. But because it involves blasting millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground at extremely high pressure, hydrofracking has been linked to contamination of rural water supplies.  Those cases and the ongoing danger of soil and water pollution have spawned a movement led by environmentalists to halt hydrofracking until it can be more completely and effectively regulated to protect local environments.

The movement to regulate fracking has found a receptive audience in the Obama administration, with both Obama himself and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu publicly stating the need for more investigation into and oversight of fracking activities.  The panel named by Secretary Chu last week has two objectives: to recommend steps that will make hydrofracking safer in just 90 days and to outline appropriate safety and environmental guidelines for state and federal regulators.  The seven-member panel is led by John Deutch, a chemist and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and includes oil and gas industry leaders, academics, and environmentalists.

Despite the diverse makeup of the panel that represents all stakeholders in the fracking debate, Republicans in the House of Representatives swiftly condemned the creation of the panel and its mission in a press release, claiming further studies of hydrofracking are superfluous and place an undue burden on businesses.  Republicans also stated that hydrofracking has been used safely for decades and that the Evironmental Protection Agency already has sufficient authority to regulate the practice.  While hydrofracking has been employed by the oil and gas industry for more than 50 years, recent technological advancements like horizontal drilling have allowed fracking to be used in ever-deeper drilling endeavors, bringing about new threats to aquifers and surrounding environments.

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