Natural Gas in Spotlight
Natural gas storage up slightly this week. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

A U.S. Department of Energy panel issued a report recommending more stringent safeguards on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as"fracking," a potentially hazardous process used to harvest natural gas from underground shale formations.

The report was released by a seven member Natural Gas Committee appointed by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to follow up on a New York Times report detailing concerns within the natural gas industry that people may have overstated the profitability of fracking while downplaying the possible environmental and public health fallout. Critics have warned that the practice, which entails blasting a mixture of sand and chemicals deep underground, poses a serious risk.

The panel took up those concerns, calling for stricter standards on greenhouse gas emissions associated with fracking, a federal database to monitor drilling, more tighly monitored waste disposal and the elimination of diesel use in the process, citing carcinogens found in diesel.

"The public deserves assurance that the full economic, environmental and energy security benefits of shale gas development will be realized without sacrificing public health, environmental protection and safety," the report read.

The report's findings are likely to be read with a great deal of skepticism. The Times reports that the panel was assailed by lawmakers, scientists and environmental advocates concerned about ties to the energy industry among members of the panel. President Barack Obama has supported fracking, advancing the energy industry's argument that natural gas represents an untapped windfall of domestic energy that could lessen the country's dependence on foreign oil.

Efforts to drill for natural gas have produced intense debate across the country. New York state sits atop a vast natural gas reservoir called the Marcellus Shale and governor Andrew Cuomo recently moved to lift a moratorium on natural gas drilling, earning both plaudits and criticism.