President Barack Obama issued an executive order on Friday creating an interagency group to oversee development of natural gas from shale deposits as companies push the administration to approve terminals to export the fuel.
Vast new sources of shale gas, which drillers access with techniques including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have given the United States hope that it could become a natural gas exporter in coming years.
Environmentalists and health groups, however, say that fracking operations near homes and schools can pollute air and water, Reuters reported.
"It is vital that we take full advantage of our natural gas resources, while giving American families and communities confidence that natural and cultural resources, air and water quality, and public health and safety will not be compromised," the executive order said, according to the news wire.
The working group will include representatives from at least 13 federal agencies including the Departments of Defense, Interior, and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute trade group, praised the move.
“We’re pleased that the White House recognizes the need to coordinate the efforts of the ten federal agencies that are reviewing, studying or proposing new regulations on natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing,” Gerard said after meeting at the White House on the matter.
“We have called on the White House to rein in these uncoordinated activities to avoid unnecessary and overlapping federal regulatory efforts and are pleased to see forward progress.”
The Department of Energy will consider seven applications to export natural gas, from companies including Southern BG and Sempra, after it issues a study on exporting the fuel.
Meanwhile, other departments have taken steps to regulate fracking.
Earlier this year, the Interior Department crafted draft rules that would require natural gas drillers to disclose which chemicals they use while fracking on public lands.
The addition the EPA is conducting a study about whether the process of fracking, in which companies blast large amounts of sand and water laced with chemicals deep underground to free natural gas and bring it to the surface, is polluting water supplies.
Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, also issued a statement in support of the order.
"The White House executive order has a very good intent -
centralizing the many ongoing reviews of hydraulic fracturing policies
and proposals," he said.
"We hope this order provides the administration with a
more comprehensive understanding of the federal government's increasing
regulatory grasp on the industry."