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Oklahoma officials take part in natural gas discussion with federal panel

Oil and natural gas industry officials from Oklahoma were part of discussions in Washington, D.C., this week with a Department of Energy subcommittee looking for safer ways to produce natural gas.
BY JAY F. MARKS Published: June 3, 2011

Oklahoma was well represented this week at public hearings before a U.S. Department of Energy panel looking for ways to improve shale gas development.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon and Devon Energy Corp. executive Bill Whitsitt were part of Wednesday's industry panel to address the seven-member natural gas subcommittee.

Oklahoma Energy Secretary Mike Ming was on Thursday's panel of state regulators. He was supposed to be joined by Lori Wrotenbery, director of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's oil and gas division, but she was unable to attend due to a conflict.

Whitsitt, Devon's executive vice president for public affairs, said it is important for industry officials to educate people who are not familiar with gas production about its benefits.

He said this week's hearings were only the beginning of a lengthy process to win more support for the increased gas production.

“We need to look at this as an opportunity to share information both inside the (Obama) administration and outside,” Whitsitt said.

Education needed

The Energy Department's natural gas subcommittee was formed in January to evaluate the role of natural gas in a future clean energy economy.

In late March, Energy Secretary Steven Chu asked the subcommittee to come up with recommendations for what could be done to improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas extraction processes, along with other steps to protect public health and safety.

The subcommittee is supposed to complete its recommendations by mid-August, 90 days after its initial May 19 meeting.

Whitsitt said industry representatives had a good discussion with the subcommittee Wednesday.

He said the Energy Department panel does not include any representatives of the oil and natural gas industry, but its members are well respected in their fields.

Most have ties to the industry, but Whitsitt said he is concerned none are involved in the day-to-day search for natural gas.

Whitsitt said the subcommittee had been briefed on natural gas production by federal officials, but its education had some gaps when it came to what companies are doing to improve their practices.

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