Lost in the blizzard of tax returns, Buffett Rule arguments, and Axelrod endorsements this weekend was a story from The Hill on yet another unilateral White House move to burden energy exploration and extraction. Barack Obama issued an executive order on Friday that launches a task force with the mission of expanding federal intervention into hydraulic fracturing, the technique that could unlock a vast trove of natural-gas deposits … if the government allows its use:
President Obama signed an executive order Friday establishing a high-level task force charged with coordinating federal oversight of domestic natural-gas development.
The task force is charged with ensuring that rapidly growing efforts to tap vast natural-gas supplies in the country’s shale formations, which require advanced drilling techniques including “fracking,” are “safe and responsible.” …
“While natural gas production is carried out by private firms, and States are the primary regulators of onshore oil and gas activities, the Federal Government has an important role to play by regulating oil and gas activities on public and Indian trust lands, encouraging greater use of natural gas in transportation, supporting research and development aimed at improving the safety of natural gas development and transportation activities, and setting sensible, cost-effective public health and environmental standards to implement Federal law and augment State safeguards,” the executive order says.
The order sets up a task force to “facilitate coordinated Administration policy efforts to support safe and responsible unconventional domestic natural gas development.”
The task force is being run through the Domestic Policy Council and will be chaired by White House energy adviser Heather Zichal. Members will include “deputy-level representatives” from the Defense Department, Energy Department, Interior Department, Commerce Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other federal agencies.
Hey, this could be good news, too. Maybe Obama has decided that the federal oversight of fracking activities has become too fragmented for efficient issuance of permits and clearances, and wants to streamline the process. Getting all of the executive-branch stakeholders together for that effort could relieve a lot of red tape and costs to producers.
Does anyone believe that, though? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? If the Obama White House wanted that as an outcome, the EO would have been signed in time to get play in the news cycle, with its own press event. Obama would have declared his support for fracking and oil extraction. The EO wouldn’t have been snuck out of the West Wing in a Friday night news dump, to be buried by Buffett Rule arguments and demands to see Mitt Romney’s tax returns.
Given this administration’s factually-deficient attacks on fracking, especially through the EPA, I’d consider this more of an attempt to consolidate opposition to the practice. Zichal is an environmental activist in charge of the climate-change effort in the White House after Carol Browner’s departure, which gives even more reason for skepticism in the motives behind this EO. And with this administration’s pattern of regulatory adventurism already well established, I’d guess that we’re likely to see even more obstacles to fracking from this EO-created consortium of bureaucracies than red-tape reductions.