Natural gas hydraulic fracturing remains a controversial practice that is generating a lot of attention in Washington and elsewhere. Proponents of hydrofracking say that the practice is safe, but there are vocal critics who contend that the practice could cause environmental problems. An April 19 blowout at a Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County, Pa. gave some further ammunition to critics’ arguments. Even though the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Chesapeake responded quickly to the blowout, thousands of gallons of fracking fluids and natural gas had leaked onto nearly farmland and a local creek before the well was under control.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the midst of a major study on the environmental impacts and safety of the practice, with plans to release preliminary findings late in 2012.

Now, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced that he has established a group of experts to study hydrofracking and to make recommendations within 90 days about “any immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of hydraulic fracturing.” In a statement, he said, “America’s vast natural gas resources can generate many new jobs and provide significant environmental benefits, but we need to ensure we harness these resources safely.”

John Deutch, a chemist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who served in both the Carter and Clinton administrations, currently sits on the board of directors of Raytheon and Cheniere Energy and is a past director of Schlumberger, will chair the group.

Other members include Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection; and Stephen Holditch, head of the Dept. of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University. 


For a complete roster of the panel’s membership and a copy of the memo spelling out the scope of the groups’ work, click below: