Chu on This: U.S. Energy Head Against Fracking Ban

Last Updated Jan 18, 2010 5:55 PM EST

Just when the oil and gas industry figured the Obama administration couldn't be any dumber -- they went ahead and totally redeemed themselves. Or at least Department of Energy head Steven Chu did when he tossed a little love in the industry's direction.

Chu, speaking to reporters Friday on a variety of topics, said he would not favor a ban on hydraulic fracturingor fracking, a method used to produce hard-to-reach gas trapped in shale-rock formations. He did acknowledge that if done incorrectly, fracking could pollute water tables.

"I think it (fracking) can be done responsibly, and the (Environmental Protection Agency) and other agencies will be looking to ensure it's done safely and responsibly," said Chu, according to a Dow Jones report. "If (natural gas) can be extracted in an environmentally safe way, then why would you want to ban it?"
Legislation introduced last year would end an exemption for hydraulic fracking within the Safe Water Drinking Act; and regulation would fall under the EPA's authority. Environmentalists worry underground water could be contaminated during fracking, a process that pump millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand under high pressure into horizontal wells. The pressure cracks shale deposits and releases the gas. Oil and gas industry folk, meanwhile, are concerned the EPA will ban the procedure or put so many extra requirements on it that will be too expensive, and lead to the eventual demise of unconventional natural gas production.

The Chu quote was picked up by few news agencies, but I thought The Hill E2 Wire's posts were the best at capturing Chu's comic-yet-nerdy tone and words on fracking, oil trading rules and carbon caps, all topics he covered during the interview. My favorite came from questions about the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's proposal to limit energy market speculation in which Chu, who endorsed the move, said: "Hey look, I'm just a physicist trying to, you know, decrease the carbon emissions of the world."

As someone looking to "decrease the carbon emissions of the world" Chu knows -- and by extension the Obama administration -- that the prospect of meeting America's natural gas needs through domestic production is too valuable to tinker with -- at least not too much. So expect some regulation, just not to the level some might like to go. Chu hinted as to much, when he said companies should not use fracking in shale rock that is close to a water table or an unstable fault line, according to a Reuters report.