Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Friday called on Energy Secretary Steven Chu to broaden the membership of the panel charged with reviewing the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) practice used to develop shale natural gas.

At a field hearing in Bakersfield, CA, Issa urged the Obama administration to include not just opponents on the seven-member panel, The Bakersfield Californian reported. He claimed that the panel members, which Chu announced last Thursday, appeared to be weighted in one direction -- mostly scientists and environmentalists (see Shale Daily,May 9).

Appointed as chairman of the group is John Deutch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor. Other members are 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 of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; and Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University. The group does not include any industry members, as was initially expected.

"I think it [the panel membership] needs to be broadened," Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, told NGI's Shale Daily."Itwouldbehelpful if there was more industry experience," and it "might be useful to have some state regulators since they're most familiar" with fracking.

"It would have created more balance" if at least one industry participant had been selected to sit on the panel, he said. As it stands now, the group includes the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy group; and McGinty, who headed up the Council on Environmental Quality under the Clinton administration, and was "very critical of industry," Fuller said. Yergin "certainly understands the industry," but Fuller questioned whether he was a technical expert on fracking.

A few of the panel's member have had ties to industry in the past. Deutch at one time sat on the board of directors of Schlumberger Ltd.; Holditch ran a petroleum consulting firm until 1997, when it was bought by Schlumberger; and Zoback was an adviser to Baker Hughes, according to Fuller.

The panel 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 fracking. 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.

Testifying at the hearing, Tupper Hull, vice president of communications for the Western States Petroleum Association, defended fracking against claims that it is unsafe. "Hydraulic fracturing is a completions technique that has been safely and efficiently used throughout the country, including California, for decades...[And] despite media reports to the contrast, it is not a new or exotic technology, " he said.

"To our knowledge, there has never been a single documented incident where fluids used in hydraulic fracturing have adversely impacted a California drinking water supply. Environmentalists and some critics contends that fracking poses a serious risk to public drinking water.