On April 13th, President Obama issued an Executive Order creating a federal inter-agency task to coordinate efforts on oversight of horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  Method such as hydraulic fracturing (i.e. "fracking") have allowed access to massive new deposits of natural gas bring the price down for natural gas to historic lows.  While fracking has resulted in a huge increase in production, the drilling method continue to generate environmental concerns.

Thus far, the States have really taken the lead in development of new regulations and requirements for fracking.  In my last post I discussed Ohio’s recent legislative proposal. Now, the federal government will attempt to coordinate its efforts regarding oversight and planning associated with unconventional natural gas drilling techniques such as fracking.  The Executive Order creates the inter-agency work group for the following purposes:

  1. Coordinate agency policy activities, ensuring their efficient and effective operation and facilitating cooperation among agencies, as appropriate;
  2. coordinate among agencies the sharing of scientific, environmental, and related technical and economic information;
  3. engage in long-term planning and ensure coordination among the appropriate Federal entities with respect to such issues as research, natural resource assessment, and the development of infrastructure; 
  4. promote interagency communication with stakeholders; and
  5. consult with other agencies and offices as appropriate.

The Work Group is made up of 13 federal agencies and departments, including: U.S. EPA, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Dept. of Interior, Dept. of Energy, and others. 

It appears that industry supports the working group as a potential mechanism to avoid applicative regulation.  This from the Washington Post:

“We have called on the White House to rein in these uncoordinated activities to avoid unnecessary and overlapping federal regulatory efforts and are pleased to see forward progress,” said Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the largest lobbying group for the oil and gas industry.

Gerard and other industry leaders met with White House officials Friday.

Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the American Gas Association, said the new working group will help promote consistency among administration policies.

In it is interesting that the Washington Post and other news outlets reported the purpose of the working group as to "coordinate new regulation."  However, reading through the five stated purposes of the working group none of them even mention regulation. Rather, it appears as if the purpose of the group is to share information, not coordinate regulatory efforts.

In my experience working with such federal inter-agency workgroups associated with the Great Lakes, federal agencies were reluctant to give up their own turf.  Unless the Administration takes an active role in working group it seems very unlikely the agencies, on their own, will coordinate their regulatory efforts..