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U.S. Energy Secretary: Containment Key to Deepwater Leases

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu said Monday he was comfortable with the Obama administration's decision to resume allowing leases to move forward in the Gulf of Mexico, but he did not address the ongoing controversy over the speed of that process (see Daily GPI, March 31). He did, however, mention the new offshore drilling requirements.

"The president made very clear, especially in deepwater drilling, that you have to show that you can actually have some secondary containment [system]," Chu said during a radio interview with Diane Rehm on National Public Radio. "But there have been many leases that have been allowed since the Macondo spill."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) issued additional guidance over its offshore deepwater drilling safety requirements on March 28 (see Daily GPI, March 29). The guidance outlines the process that BOEM will use to review underwater containment plans for deepwater drilling operations.

"Quite frankly, in hindsight some of the regulations weren't being uniformly enforced," Chu said. "You first enforce the regulations that are already in place, [but] there's going to be developed a new set of regulations."

Chu also said the administration was looking for the "best practices" to move forward with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale gas.

"We believe it's possible, but we need to look into this, that it is possible to extract that shale gas in a way that protects the water, that protects people's health, that protects those things," Chu said. He later conceded that "some bad things have happened," and when pressed by Rehm he specifically mentioned water pollution.

"There have been instances where some of the fracking fluids have been found in water, where natural gas has been appearing in water supplies where it should have never appeared," Chu said. "The question is what is the cause of that? Can they be mitigated and prevented? If they can be prevented, then you need to do those best practices to prevent it."

Chu also said some "bad actors" may be responsible for the instances of water pollution.

"We would need some of the leaders in the industry to step forward [and] form a group that says these are best practices that really minimize the potential harm to the environment, and especially to our water supplies," Chu said.

President Obama announced on March 30 that he had directed the DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department to form a subcommittee to analyze fracking and the recovery of shale gas. Chu said he had spent the Easter weekend making preparations for the formation of the subcommittee, which included brushing up on the latest in fracking technology.

"It has come a long way in the last five years," Chu said. "You can actually monitor in great detail what you're fracking and where the cracks are going. Here is a good example that science gives you solutions that you might not have had five or 10 years ago."

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