President Barack Obama on Friday released an executive order that will coordinate the administration’s activities on natural gas and perhaps answer criticism that the White House is trying to end hydraulic fracturing.
The order creates a working group that includes various White House offices such as the Council on Environmental Quality and National Economic Council, as well as relevant cabinet departments and agencies like Interior, EPA and Department of Homeland Security.
It comes on the heels of complaints by GOP leaders — including Mitt Romney — and the gas industry that too many departments are working on hydraulic fracturing regulations, potentially halting the growth of the industry.
Over the past several months, numerous industry representatives have met with high level Office of Management and Budget officials — including Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs chief Cass Sunstein — to voice their concerns with the Interior Department’s upcoming well stimulation rule, which will govern fracking on federal lands, according to OMB records. A group of environmentalists met with OMB last week as well.
Obama last July set up a similar coordination network for Alaskan onshore and offshore oil and natural gas exploration.
Interior officials have said its rule will address well casing, wastewater disposal and fracking fluid disclosure. A preliminary draft of the rule was leaked in February, but Interior has yet to release an official draft of the rule.
Next Tuesday, meanwhile, the EPA is scheduled to issue new air standards for oil and gas operations.
Romney last week used a campaign stop at oil and gas operations company Mountain Energy Services in Tunkhannock, Pa., to attack the administration on fracking.
“But now this president has eight different agencies trying to fight their way to become regulators of the gas extraction technology known as fracking,” Romney said. “And the intent, of course, is to slow down the development of our own resources.”
For his part, Obama has repeatedly said natural gas is a key part of America’s energy mix.
During his State of the Union address, Obama alluded to hydraulic fracturing without ever saying the words.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” Obama said, echoing industry-backed estimates, and adding that gas extraction could eventually support as many as 600,000 jobs within a decade. “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”
Unlike oil and gasoline prices, natural gas prices in the U.S. have continued to fall, this week dipping below the symbolic $2 mark for the first time in a decade.
Obama also in his speech promised that all companies drilling for gas on public lands would have to disclose the chemicals they used — although that fell short of environmentalists' demands for full disclosure of all fracking chemicals anywhere — including on private lands, where much gas extraction occurs in places such as the Marcellus Shale. Obama also made no mention of the greens' call for giving the EPA the power to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
Talia Buford and Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 12:01 p.m. on April 13, 2012.
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