Feds Increase Fracking Oversight

President Obama signed an executive order Friday establishing the Interagency Working Group to Support Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources. The group includes representation from many federal agencies, some of which are already studying, and in some cases proposing to regulate, natural gas drilling, including fracking.

The executive order says greater federal coordination is needed because:

“While natural gas production is carried out by private firms, and States are the primary regulators of onshore oil and gas activities, the Federal Government has an important role to play by regulating oil and gas activities on public and Indian trust lands, encouraging greater use of natural gas in transportation, supporting research and development aimed at improving the safety of natural gas development and transportation activities, and setting sensible, cost-effective public health and environmental standards to implement Federal law and augment State safeguards.”

Soon after the executive order was released, the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Department of the Interior announced they had signed a memorandum of agreement to coordinate and align all research associated with development of the nation’s unconventional natural gas and oil resources. A primary goal of this effort will be to identify research topics where collaboration among the three agencies can be most effectively and efficiently conducted to provide results and technologies that support sound policy decisions by the agencies responsible for ensuring the prudent development of energy sources while promoting safe practices and human health.

The EPA is slated to unveil final oil-and-gas air pollution regulations next week that would cut smog-forming and toxic emissions from wells developed with fracking. Interior will soon propose rules for fracking on public lands.

Since 2008, U.S. oil and natural gas production has increased each year. In 2011, U.S. crude oil production reached its highest level in 8 years, increasing by an estimated 110,000 barrels per day over 2010 levels to 5.59 million barrels per day. And U.S. natural gas production grew in 2011 as well – the largest year-over-year volumetric increase in history – easily eclipsing the previous all-time production record set in 1973. Overall, oil imports have been falling since 2005, and oil import dependence declined from 57 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2011 – the lowest level since 1995.

This post was authored by GLLF staff attorney Emily Kelchen.

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