Energy Secretary Steven Chu on natural gas: water contamination has happened

Yesterday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu was interviewed on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR. You can listen to it, watch it, or read the transcript on the show's website. The interview is well worth your time as he discusses many important energy issues.

Regarding natural gas production, Secretary Chu stated: "I have looked into this, and certainly there's evidence that some bad things have happened." He goes on to say that: ".....there's water pollution. There have been instances where some of the fracking fluids have been found in water. There have been instances where natural gas has been appearing in water supplies where it should have never appeared -- issues like that. And so the question is, what is the cause of that? Can they be mitigated and prevented? Now, if they can be prevented, then you need to do those best practices to prevent it."

Secretary Chu importantly points out that there are technologies that are proven by science to improve the safety of natural gas production, and that they are "economically viable." Unfortunately, these technologies are not adopted uniformly by all companies.  Some other important points made by the Secretary in his interview: 

  • Chu makes the point that wind and solar energy are "significantly cleaner" than oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy. He says we need to transition to these renewable forms of energy "as quickly as we can."
  • The Obama Administration is taking complaints about the harms of natural gas production "very seriously." The Secretary reports that President Obama has charged the Department of Energy and its Secretary's advisory board to look at fracking and recovery and production of shale gas.

Secretary Chu is right that we need to shine the most powerful scientific light on the practices that produce natural gas. As he mentioned, EPA is taking the lead with its comprehensive scientific analysis of the impacts to drinking water from hydraulic fracturing. Other agencies have expertise to contribute. Where we can improve the safety and lower the environmental impact of natural gas production, it must be done. If companies do not adopt such practices voluntarily with high compliance and zero tolerance for errors, then government must require it through regulation and strong enforcement.