President Barack Obama announced Friday the creation of a new federal inter-agency group chartered with the responsibility of ensuring the nation's natural gas resources are developed safely.
In the executive order, the Poesident said it is vital that we take full advantage of our natural gas resources, while giving American families and communities confidence that natural and cultural resources, air and water quality, and public health and safety will not be compromised.
The order comes as natural gas production becomes more and more important for the United States' energy sector, as well as the topic of several investigations on the health risk of extracting it. Increased production has gone hand in hand with fears that the industry's activity has harmed the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency is readying the release of its air emission standards for natural gas drilling. The agency is also continuing its investigation into allegations that natural gas drilling, specifically hydraulic fracturing, contaminated groundwater in Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking calls for the blasting of underground rock formations with thousands of gallons of water, chemicals and sand to unlock natural gas trapped underneath.
The president cited data according to which natural gas made up a quarter of all energy consumed in the U.S. in 2011, and the Energy Information Administration said the U.S. now consumes more than quarter of the world's natural gas.
Natural gas production in the U.S. has soared in recent years thanks to advances in drilling technology, which have opened to exploitation large unconventional deposits previously through inaccessible.
As of April 6, there were 2.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in storage. That is a 55.5 percent increase over the previous year and a 58.7 percent increase over the previous five-year average.
As described in the president's order, the new inter-agency task force will include members of 13 federal agencies including the departments of Defense, Interior, Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The move was applauded by the American Petroleum Institute, the largest industry trade group, but Jack Gerard, API president and CEO, said states should take the lead in natural gas regulation.
There are already strong state regulatory systems in place, Gerard said. Adding potentially redundant federal regulation could stifle the kind of investment that has led to lower energy prices for consumers, more American jobs, and increased energy security.