Energy Department To Revamp Hydraulic Fracturing Rules for Natural Gas Extraction

DOE logo The New York Times reports that the Department of Energy, acting on orders from President Obama, has established an expert panel to revise safety and environmental standards for hydraulic fracturing (so-called “fracking”). Hydraulic fracturing involves high-pressure injection of fluids into underground shale formations to break open natural gas pockets as a technique for extraction of natural gas from deep wells. The Obama Administration’s new energy policy, announced on March 30, 2011 at Georgetown University, significantly relies on increased natural gas production.

Steven Chu, Energy Secretary, has requested the expert panel to issue immediate recommendations within 90 days, and a more comprehensive set of safety and environmental standards within three months.  The expert panel chairman is John Deutch, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and deputy defense secretary, and current director of Cheniere Energy, which operates a natural gas terminal and pipelines.

Hydraulic fracturing pours millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground and into wastewater treatment systems, which in some cases are not designed to treat all of the contaminants. The New York Times article refers to “numerous documented cases” in which fracking fluids leaked into aquifers and contaminated drinking water.

Other members of the panel include former PADEP secretary Kathleen McGinty; Stephen Holditch, chairman of the department of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M University; Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; Susan Tierney, former assistant secretary of energy for policy and Massachusetts secretary of environmental affairs; Daniel Yergin, chairman of I. H. S. Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power,” and Mark Zoback, a Stanford geophysics professor.

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