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Subcommittee Taking a Field Trip for Fracking Study

As it works to craft best practices for hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was hosting a rare meeting in Washington Monday night -- Washington, PA, not Washington, DC.

The hearing marks the first time the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee (SEAB) was leaving the capitol to hear from stakeholders in Marcellus Shale country. The subcommittee has made time for more than 50 supporters and opponents of hydrofracking to speak, but many more were expected to show up both to listen to the testimony inside the hall and to demonstrate outside.

The DOE announced the two-hour hearing at Washington & Jefferson College southwest of Pittsburgh just last Tuesday, citing "programmatic issues and members' availability" for the short notice.

The hearing will help the federal government decide how involved to be on shale gas regulations, according to Tom Shepstone, campaign director for Energy In Depth's Northeast Marcellus Initiative.

"Everyone's unsure what direction the federal government is going," he told NGI's Shale Daily.

DOE Secretary Steven Chu formed the subcommittee in May, following a major policy speech by President Obama calling for both increased development and increased scrutiny of natural gas (see Shale Daily, May 9; April 4; March 31). The subcommittee includes environmental, industry and state regulatory experts, and is tasked with assembling "best practices" for hydrofracking within six months.

Shepstone said Energy In Depth expects to bring around two dozen people to the hearing to ask the federal government to allow states to continuing to manage the regulation of hydrofracking.

Meanwhile, environmental groups want the subcommittee to hear from landowners near shale developments, and will recommend that hydrofracking not continue under existing regulations.

"[The subcommittee] absolutely must hear from impacted citizens and gather up information on the environmental impacts of industrial shale gas development that is going on now," Nadia Steinzor, an organizer with Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project, told NGI's Shale Daily.

Steinzor said she hopes the hearing prompts the subcommittee to meet in other shale regions as well.

The SEAB subcommittee last week held a two-day hearing in Washington, which included testimony from regulators from various states (see Shale Daily, June 8).

Many have questioned the make up of the panel, although some believe it includes too many skeptics of hydrofracking while others say there are too many industry insiders (see Shale Daily, June 7; May 11).

Calling the subcommittee a "sham," the group Marcellus Protest plans to protest outside the hall.

Over the weekend Energy in Depth took flack for offering free travel and accommodations to people from outside of southwestern Pennsylvania interested in attending the hearing. Shepstone defended the decision, calling it a common practice among advocate groups both for and against shale development.

"The problem with the whole thing is this assumption that the other side can do it and we can't," he said.

The hearing will be webcast live at www.shalegas.energy.gov.

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