Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and White House to clarify language in a recent executive order creating an interagency working group on hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and other Republicans expressed concern that the Obama administration’s executive order, which was issued in April, may potentially threaten state authority over fracking (see Shale Daily, April 16). The working group has been given the task of coordinating Obama administration policy efforts with respect to the production of natural gas, particularly shale gas, as well as sharing scientific, environmental and related technical and economic information.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Working Group Chair Heather Zichal, the committee Republicans said the “executive order charges the working group to ‘facilitate coordinated administration policy efforts to support safe and responsible unconventional natural gas development. However, the executive order flags ‘augmenting state safeguards’ as a role for the federal government.

“The order is not clear on whether the federal standard-setting role is in addition to or in lieu of the states’ role as primary regulators.”

The letter goes on to request a more thorough explanation of EPA’s activities related to natural gas production and the working group’s role in them. These include EPA’s current study on drinking water and fracking; new chemical reporting requirements for fracking; and the agency’s groundwater investigations under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act.

The working group is made up of eight cabinet-level agencies and a handful of separate agencies: the EPA, the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of Management and Budget, and the National Economic Council.