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Head of Obama Fracking Panel 'Must Step Down'

Citing his financial ties to the oil and natural gas industry, an attorney with a Washington, DC-based advocacy group has called on the Obama administration to replace the chairman of the subcommittee exploring the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

John Deutch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who heads the secretary of energy's advisory board to conduct the review, "must step down from the panel," said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel and public lands analyst for the Environmental Working Group, during the first public meeting of the advisory board last week.

"During a stint on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world's three largest hydraulic fracturing companies, Deutch received about $563,000 in 2006 and 2007, according to Forbes Magazine online. He is now on the board of Cheniere Energy Inc., a Houston-based liquefied natural gas company that, according to Forbes, paid him about $882,000 from 2006 through 2009...The panel must be chaired by an impartial person and must also be expanded to include independent experts," Horwitt said.

In addition to Deutch, Horwitt said a number of other advisory panel members have or have had industry connections, including:

Horwitt did not report any past industry ties for Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund and a member of the advisory panel.

While Horwitt believes that the panel's makeup is tilted towards the oil and gas industry, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and leading oil and gas groups believe that it is weighted towards mostly scientists and environmentalists who are opposed to fracking (see Shale Daily, May 11). They called on the administration to broaden the advisory panel to include at least one member with existing hands-on experience in fracking.

"It would be helpful if there was more industry experience," and it "might be useful to have some state regulators since they're most familiar" with fracking, said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, after Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the members of the panel in early May.

"It would have created more balance" if at least one industry participant with hands-on experience 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 opposed to fracking; and McGinty has a past record of being "very critical of industry," Fuller said. Yergin "certainly understands the industry," but Fuller questioned whether he was a technical expert on fracking.

While a few of the panel's member have had ties to industry in the past, they currently are directors, hold consulting positions or university posts, rather than being on the front lines of oil and gas development.

The advisory 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.

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