The federal government is moving to coordinate its oversight of the natural gas industry.
President Barack Obama on Friday created a working group to align his administration's efforts to ensure safe and responsible development of unconventional natural gas resources in the U.S.
“In 2011, natural gas provided 25 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. Its production creates jobs and provides economic benefits to the entire domestic production supply chain,” the president's executive order said. “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.”
Industry groups praised the move, but Obama's order drew criticism from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa.
“President Obama now believes that his administration's efforts to regulate natural gas production have become so complicated and convoluted that he needs yet another government board to coordinate them,” Inhofe said. “While he makes disingenuous claims about how this working group is to increase natural gas production, we all know that the more layers of government involved, the greater the likelihood that he can stall efforts towards development.”
Inhofe said 10 federal agencies currently are looking into gas development and hydraulic fracturing, but Obama's new working group adds three more to the mix.
He said the Obama administration is doing everything it can to impede gas development, while pretending to support domestic production.
The American Petroleum Institute, which had urged Obama to rein in federal agencies looking into hydraulic fracturing, welcomed the president's order, but CEO Jack Gerard maintained regulatory oversight should remain with states.
“There are already strong state regulatory systems in place,” Gerard said. “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.”
Obama maintains federal oversight is necessarily, especially on public and Indian trust lands, but he promised “sensible, cost-effective public health and environmental standards to implement federal law and augment state safeguards.”
The U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlined how collaboration will work in a memorandum of understanding.
“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 Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. “Improvements in technologies like hydraulic fracturing are responsible for greatly increasing our capacity to develop America's abundant unconventional resources in recent years.
“Through a close collaboration across the government that reduces redundancy and streamlines our research, we are positioning the Obama administration to best meet the critical need of increasing public understanding and public confidence of these critical technologies so that we can continue safe and responsible exploration and production for many decades to come.”
Administration officials met with representatives of the oil and gas industry, business and manufacturing groups to discuss Friday's executive order on natural gas development.
Devon Energy Corp. spokesman Chip Minty said the industry already is overburdened by too many federal agencies looking to add new regulations for its operations.
Minty said he hopes the president's working group will remove some of the uncertainty hanging over the industry with the potential for more regulation: “We're pleased that the president pointed out in his order that the states are the primary regulators.”