WASHINGTON, D.C. - The federal government likely will take a more active role in regulating natural gas fracking because of President Barack Obama's Friday executive order to coordinate the efforts of several different departments.
As natural gas prices continue to drop below $2 per unit, which equals 1,000 cubic feet, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, industry leaders welcomed Obama's efforts as a means of preventing potentially "unnecessary and overlapping federal regulatory efforts."
Fracking - which calls for natural gas drillers to blast millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep within the earth at high pressure to break the Marcellus and Utica shale rocks to release the gas - is now exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, several federal agencies are now looking to increase oversight of the process, following Obama's order.
"By helping to power our transportation system, greater use of natural gas can also reduce our dependence on oil. And with appropriate safeguards, natural gas can provide a cleaner source of energy than other fossil fuels," Obama said in his executive order. This presidential action establishes the "Interagency Working Group to Support Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources."
"For these reasons, it is vital that we take full advantage of our natural gas resources, while giving American families and communities confidence that natural and cultural resources, air and water quality, and public health and safety will not be compromised," Obama added.
According to the order, this group will include members from the federal Departments of Defense, Interior, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Agriculture, Energy and Homeland Security.
There will also be members representing the U.S. 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.
"We are moving into a new era of American energy, one that has the potential to create jobs, strengthen our energy independence and security, and cut pollution," said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe. "We will continue to rely on the best available science to oversee the responsible development of these energy sources."
"Science, research and innovation continue to play a vital role in our efforts to further expand oil and gas production in the United States and make sure it's done safely and responsibly," said added Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. "Improvements in technologies like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are responsible for greatly increasing our capacity to develop America's abundant unconventional resources in recent years."
Some common chemicals known to be used in fracking include hydrochloric acid - found in swimming pool cleaner, and used to help dissolve minerals and crack the rock; ethylene glycol - found in antifreeze, and used to prevent scale deposits in the pipe that lines the wells; citric acid - found in soda pop, and used to prevent precipitation of metal; potassium chloride - found in medicine and salt substitutes, and used to prevent fluid from interacting with soil; and sodium carbonate - found in laundry detergent, and used to balance acidic substances.
Over the past two years, both the EPA and the Interior department have been studying the effects of fracking, while considering ways they may take a more active role in regulating it.
"There are already strong state regulatory systems in place," said Jack Gerard, president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute. "Adding potentially redundant federal regulation could stifle the kind of investment that has led to lower energy prices for consumers, more American jobs, and increased energy security. We have one of the largest known reserves of natural gas in the world, and we need public policies based on sound science in order to develop this affordable source of energy."
Another major natural gas organization, the American Gas Association, also seemed pleased with Obama's order.
"President Obama highlighted the benefits of natural gas in his State of the Union address, and has been promoting responsible production and broader use of this domestic, abundant, affordable, clean and reliable energy source," said Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive officer of AGA.