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Coalition Seeks Executive Order to Implement SEAB Recommendations

A coalition of environmental groups has called on the Obama administration to issue an executive order directing the government to adopt as soon as possible the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) subcommittee on shale gas production's recommendations that apply to federal agencies.

"While additional federal and state safeguards are needed to address the problems posed by hydraulic fracturing [fracking] around the country, we believe the subcommittee recommendations are an important first step and should be implemented swiftly," said the group of 13 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society and the League of Conservation Voters, in a letter to President Obama.

"Additionally, we urge you to direct federal agencies to go beyond the subcommittee's narrow focus on shale gas, and direct agencies to implement these recommendations for all oil and gas production activities, regardless of source formation," the coalition said.

The departments of Interior, Agriculture and Energy, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, should play an active role in implementing the subcommittee's recommendations, it noted. "The SEAB subcommittee has issued important recommendations that should not just sit on a shelf."

Several could be implemented right away, including:

In August the subcommittee issued its first report in which it made 20 recommendations for reducing the environmental impacts on air quality, water quality and the long-term economic effects of shale gas development (see Shale Daily, Aug. 12). "Some considerable progress has been made" since then in implementing the recommendations, "but I must say that...[we] had hoped for more," said John Deutch, subcommittee chairman and chemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a teleconference Monday. This was the conclusion of the second and final report that was issued last week (see Shale Daily, Nov. 11). Its objective was to "clarify and assess the progress" of implementing each of the 20 recommendations.

"We continue to believe that if these recommendations are implemented and there is responsible management of shale gas production that the country will be able to enjoy the tremendous benefits of shale gas production," he said.

"I personally think that the report has changed the way that all parties to shale gas production are thinking about it," including state regulators, federal regulators and industry, Deutch said.

Although the subcommittee was not asked to address regulation of shale gas, he seemed to suggest that federal regulation would be challenging. "There is a tremendous pattern diversity in the regulation of shale gas and other environmental activities in the country between federal and state. And that separation does make it challenging and difficult to take what I would call a systems approach to some of these issues, especially [in] the water quality area."

Moreover, he noted that a systems regulatory approach would be difficult because of the different characteristics of the geologic shale formations.

Three House Democrats have called on the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to schedule a hearing on the SEAB report before the end of the year. "SEAB identified nine [of the 20] recommendations that are ready for implementation and where federal agencies have primary responsibility. Unfortunately SEAB found that the progress of implementing these recommendations 'is less than the subcommittee hoped,'" wrote Reps. Henry Waxman of California, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado in a letter Monday to Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

"To date, the committee has not held a single hearing on the topic of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas development, despite the importance of natural gas to our energy future and widespread public concern about air and water pollution from natural gas production. The SEAB report is a good place to start."

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