Following up on President Obama's mandate earlier this spring, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced a group of environmental, industry and state regulatory experts that will make recommendations to improve the safety and environmental performance of natural gas hydraulic fracturing in shale formations.

Chu said it is important to harness a "vital domestic energy resource" while "ensuring the safety of our drinking water and the health of the environment."

In late March Obama directed Chu to convene the group as part of the administration's 44-page Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, a plan to reduce America's oil dependence, save consumers money and make the country the leader in clean energy industries (see Shale Daily, April 4; March 31).

"America's vast natural gas resources can generate many new jobs and provide significant environmental benefits, but we need to ensure we harness these resources safely," Chu said Thursday.

Chairman of the group is John Deutch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor. Other members include Stephen Holditch, head of the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University; Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Susan Tierney, managing principal at Analysis Group; Daniel Yergin, chairman, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; and Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University.

The group will form a subcommittee of the secretary of energy's advisory board to conduct the review and will identify within 90 days any immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of hydraulic fracturing. It will also develop within six months advice to the agencies on practices for shale gas extraction to ensure the protection of public health and the environment.

The subcommittee will be supported by the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department. The subcommittee will be working independently of the ongoing EPA fracturing study.

Late last month Chu told Diane Rehm on National Public Radio that the Obama administration was looking for the "best practices" to move forward with the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas. Chu conceded that "some bad things have happened" and said some "bad actors" may be responsible for the instances of water pollution (see Shale Daily, April 27).