White House sets up federal task force to regulate shale gas

13 April 2012 18:12  [Source: ICIS news]

The White House issued an executive order by President Barack Obama that establishes a federal interagency working group for the “safe and responsible development of unconventional domestic natural gas resources”. WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The White House on Friday said it was launching a broad federal government group to monitor and regulate production of shale gas, saying the action was needed to ensure public health and environmental standards and enforcement.

The White House issued an executive order by President Barack Obama that establishes a federal interagency working group for the “safe and responsible development of unconventional domestic natural gas resources”.

The working group will be chaired by a White House domestic policy official and will include representatives from 13 federal agencies, with other federal regulatory bodies to be added later.

Noting that US private sector development of natural gas is regulated primarily by state governments, Obama said that “the federal government has an important role to play” in that regulatory function.

The executive order said that the White House and the new multi-agency working group would take a role in “improving the safety of natural gas development and transportation”.

The new federal oversight panel also would set “sensible, cost-effective public health and environmental standards to implement federal laws and augment state safeguards”.

The 13-agency working group, said Obama, “will facilitate coordinated administration policy efforts to support safe and responsible unconventional domestic natural gas development”.

The agencies that will take part in the new monitoring and regulatory group include the departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Economic Council.

The executive order also noted that other federal agencies would be added to the group as needed.

The order specified that establishment of the working group does not prevent any of the participating agencies from acting on their own in overseeing development or regulation of unconventional natural gas.

Unconventional natural gas development is focused chiefly on shale gas production using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. 

That fracking process involves injecting large quantities of water and sand and some chemical additives into deep shale rock formations to free-up major natgas resources.

But the fracking process has come under increasing criticism from environmentalists and state and federal policymakers concerning possible risks that it may pose to drinking water supplies or the broader environment.

At least ten different federal agencies have already launched as many as 14 separate regulatory initiatives aimed at determining the environmental impact of fracking and whether federal regulation or restriction of the technique is needed.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alone has launched five regulatory initiatives related to fracking. 

Some in the US energy sector and among gas-dependent chemicals manufacturers worry that EPA and other watchdog agencies could effectively shut down shale gas development.

Shale gas resources have revolutionised US petrochemical production and downstream chemical manufacturers and have restored producers' feedstock cost advantage over most other global sectors.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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