*UPDATE II* Energy Secretary Moniz Defends Safety of HF

UPDATE II (8/26/2013; 4:58pm ET): During a speech today at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University in New York City, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz discussed the important role of natural gas development. One of Moniz’s particularly noteworthy statements – made in response to interruptions from those in the crowd opposed to natural gas – stand as yet another example of his and countless other experts’ and regulatorssupport for this clean-burning American resource.

As Politico Pro (sub req’d) reports:

“During a question-and-answer session after his speech, Moniz was repeatedly interrupted by audience members who criticized natural gas. …At one point, a member of the audience interrupted Moniz to say that fracking could have a worse effect on the environment than coal.

’The current data suggest that that is an incorrect statement, but we will be exploring it,’ Moniz responded, adding that the administration is examining the effects of natural gas development, including methane emissions.

“He also said that the potential environmental and safety concerns with regards to fracking have ‘clear solutions.’”

UPDATE (8/1/2013; 1:38pm EST): Today, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz reiterated the strong and decades-long safety record of hydraulic fracturing. Speaking at a breakfast roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Moniz stated “To my knowledge I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater,” reiterating comments from federal and state regulators across the country that hydraulic fracturing is a proven safe technology.

Moniz, a former head of the physics department at MIT, also discussed the misperceived notion that methane leakage is negating the greenhouse gas benefits of natural gas. The Hill reports:

“His remarks show that although the Obama administration is studying methane questions, Moniz doesn’t believe the emissions erode the climate advantage of natural gas compared to carbon-heavy coal its displacing in power generation. ‘My look at the evidence to date suggests that this in no way eliminates the significant advantage of gas over coal for CO2 emissions,’ Moniz told reporters.

“Moniz noted the U.S. is on track to meet its greenhouse gas reduction target of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. ‘About half of that progress we have made is from the natural gas boom, in this case the market-driven substitution for coal,’ he said.” (emphasis added)

Moniz also emphasized that the risks associated with oil and natural gas development are controllable. As he noted in Politico Pro (sub req’d), “All of these [risks] are manageable. We know what to do.”

—Original Post 6/28/2013—

The President’s Climate Action Plan this week reinforced the important role natural gas production will continue to play in America’s energy future. And according to Ernest Moniz, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, the states are critical in making sure this development is properly carried out.

As Brian Scheid writes in Platts Gas Daily (sub. req’d):

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in his first interview since taking office last month, expressed firm support for the domestic natural gas industry, both in stressing his desire to quickly approve liquefied natural gas exports and backing the role of states in regulating hydraulic fracturing.

“I think in the end there has to be a very, very strong state role there” for states, Moniz said in an interview set to air Sunday on “Platts Energy Week.” “The situations are different in different states, the geologies are different,” he said…

Secretary Moniz isn’t alone in his opinion. Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has strongly defended state regulation of oil and gas development – including hydraulic fracturing – stating in 2011: “We have no data right now that lead us to believe one way or the other that there needs to be specific federal regulation of the fracking process.” Jackson continued in her interview by observing, “States are stepping up and doing a good job. It doesn’t have to be EPA that regulates the 10,000 wells that might go in.” EPA’s Drinking Water Division Director Steve Heare has also said states are doing a “good job” regulating hydraulic fracturing.

It’s not surprising states have received this praise given the proven safety record of hydraulic fracturing over its sixty-plus year lifespan. But in addition to the strong state role, shale development is also regulated by no-fewer than eight federal laws. As EID has reported on in the past, a 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) cites specific federal environmental and public health laws that govern the entire shale development process, including but not limited to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which applies to disposal wells, the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), among others. While states are and should be taking the lead, the notion that this development is somehow exempt from federal regulation is clearly a bogus talking point.

Moniz also emphasized the manageability of environmental concerns related to hydraulic fracturing, notably in regard to methane leakage. As Moniz told Platts:

“I think the issues in terms of the environmental footprint of hydraulic fracturing are manageable,” he said. “They’re challenging, but manageable.”

While many in the anti-natural gas camp contend methane leakage negates any climate benefits of natural gas, the reality – as usual – tells a different story. The EPA, for example, has acknowledged its estimates of methane leakage were way too high in its initial assessment and dramatically lowered its estimates for its 2013 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Of course, even those revised estimates were still too high, due to assumptions that are not based industry practices in the field.  In addition, study after study has found the climate benefits of natural gas are real and tangible – a point the President reiterated this week.

As the President highlighted in his speech, “cleaner-burning” natural gas is creating jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering utility bills. And while he skipped a beat on the importance of the appropriate tax structure to maintain this production, the development of our national shale resources has enabled the United States to reach its lowest level of net oil imports in 20 years, while also leading the world in natural gas production. Increased domestic production and use of natural gas is also why the United States leads the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which are at a 20-year low in the United States.

It’s reassuring to hear the Obama administration tout the environmental benefits of natural gas. Indeed, the continued development of this critical resource under a strong state-driven regulatory regime will ensure these benefits remain a permanent fixture of the U.S. economy.

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