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This week, President Obama laid out a plan for decreasing our dependence on foreign oil.

Unfortunately, part of that plan is an increased use of natural gas.

While President Obama did emphasize the need to make sure that natural gas is produced safely , he tasked Energy Secretary Chu with the job.

While the Department of Energy has many roles, regulating the extraction of natural gas in order to protect water and public health isn t one of them.

Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, is the figure that President Obama should have tasked with leading the effort to ensure the safety of the natural gas production process. The very mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. The Energy Department’s is not.

And, the EPA is already studying the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

Even before that study comes in, we know part of the problem: loopholes in environmental laws and regulations. Despite the fact that the technology that enables the expansion of gas drilling hydraulic fracturing consumes and pollutes millions of gallons of water PER WELL, this type of gas production is exempted from key parts of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Furthermore, states that attempt to regulate gas production seem to be confused as to whether their role is industry-cheerleading or protecting the public.

No matter how safe natural gas production CAN be (if it can be at all), it WON T be safe unless these loopholes are closed and new oversight is implemented in response to new studies being done (and called for) by the EPA and states.

And when (if) these holes in oversight of natural gas production are closed enforcement of the improved protections must be fully funded. Because if we follow on our current track of (non)enforcement, as identified by ProPublica, and by the BP Gulf oil spill, all the oversight in the world won t help.

Production of natural gas should not be encouraged unless and until

  • it has been proven safe,
  • adequate statutory and regulatory oversight has been enacted, and
  • enforcement is fully funded.

Hopefully the Obama administration will keep their promise of safe and responsible natural gas development, and start us on that path. Right now, we re not on it.

For more information

Obama administration’s Blueprint for a secure energy future