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Federal Panel Issues Recommendations to Improve Hydraulic Fracking

According to recent reports, a panel working for the Federal Department of Energy has issued recommendations for improving the safety and curbing the environmental impact of natural gas and oil drilling. Sources say the panel's report is specifically focused on a technique known as hydraulic fracking, which is currently used on most natural gas wells. Hydraulic fracking is an artificial process in which a mixture of water and chemicals is pumped into the ground to widen fissures in the earth's crust and release the oil or gas.

According to the panel, the oil and gas industry should better job of accounting for and disposing of the waste that comes up from the wells. The panel suggested stricter regulations on air pollution and greenhouse gases which result from oil and gas drilling. The panel recommended that oil and gas companies eliminate diesel fuel from their fracking fluid due to the toxic chemicals it contains. The panel also suggested the creation of a federal database where the public can monitor drilling operations. Further, sources say the panel's report recommended that federal officials finance the development of more efficient and cleaner drilling techniques.

Specifically, the panel's report suggested the use of a "manifest system" for tracking the waste which is produced from hydraulic fracking. Sources say these systems typically require that each load of waste is tracked as it is transported in order to verify it is not dumped. Reportedly, similar systems have been proposed to state government's before, but were rejected after intense industry opposition.

Reportedly, the federal panel responsible for the report was constructed after the New York Times published a series of articles regarding the International Environmental Protection Agency's concern about natural gas drilling. The articles led to President Obama asking the Energy Secretary to produce a report within 90 days regarding ways to improve the oversight of oil and natural gas drilling. Sources say that the committee constructed to produce the report has been highly criticized since its inception. Reportedly, academics and politicians all over the country have voiced their concern about the panel's ties to the natural gas industry.

Sources say that many politicians were critical of the panel's study because of a similar study which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was already conducting. Further, sources say EPA officials have complained about the panel's study because it seemed to undermine the their rigorous study on hydraulic fracking and drinking water. Reportedly, the EPA's primary findings are due next year.

According to reports, the Obama administration has supported the expanding of drilling for natural gas because it is a potentially cleaner source of electricity than coal. However, sources say that questions about the natural gas industry have grown. Reportedly, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently forced several oil and gas companies to testify about whether they presented long term investors with accurate information about drilling costs and long term well performance.

However, the panel's report also offers a contrast to the bleak out-looks on the natural gas industry depicted by a recent New York Times article which featured emails from industry insiders expressing concern. The panel's report states that the natural gas industry has "enormous potential to provide economic and environmental benefits for the county" while also highlighting a broader range of risks that need to be addressed.