The Obama administration issued a new executive order Friday evening, a favorite time to release material while everyone is otherwise distracted or not paying attention. The Hill reports a unilateral move by the White House to establish a new working group intended to further regulate and control exploration and extraction of natural gas deposits using hydraulic "fracking":
President Obama signed an executive order Friday establishing a high-level task force charged with coordinating federal oversight of domestic natural-gas development.
The task force is charged with ensuring that rapidly growing efforts to tap vast natural-gas supplies in the country's shale formations, which require advanced drilling techniques including "fracking," are "safe and responsible."
The task force is to be composed of "deputy-level representatives" from the Defense, Energy, Interior, and Commerce Departments as well as from the EPA and other federal agencies. It will be run out of the Domestic Policy Council and chaired by White House energy adviser Heather Zeichal. Ms. Zeichal came into the administration as Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change in December 2008. She took over most of the responsibilities to coordinate the administration's energy and climate policy when former "Climate Czar" Carol Browner left the White House in March 2011.
Speculation abounds that this cannot be good for the energy industry because issuance of the order was done quietly without fanfare and because of Ms. Zeichal's history working as a Senate aide, Obama campaign advisor, and White House insider on legislation to address climate change, reduce the country's dependence on oil for energy, and to protect American natural resources. As The Hill article warns:
Natural-gas industry groups have criticized plans to expand federal oversight, including the upcoming Interior rules, arguing that state-level oversight is sufficiently robust.
Green groups, meanwhile, say environmental oversight has not kept pace with the increased drilling.
The Business Roundtable, in a statement Friday, welcomed the new interagency group but used its arrival to launch fresh warnings of "burdensome" federal rules.
Who wants to bet this new group will help speed along badly needed domestic natural gas production? --- Anyone?