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Planet Ark World Environment News Fracking To Face More Scrutiny And Rules: MIT's Moniz

Date: 29-Apr-11
Country: USA
Author: Roberta Rampton

Huge reserves of natural gas can help the United States cut its dependence on coal but environmental issues over its extraction loom large, the head of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative said on Wednesday.

Producers blast water, chemicals and sand into shale rock to extract natural gas, a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, that has raised concerns about drinking water contamination and increased calls for more oversight.

"There's clearly going to be much more scrutiny and probably some additional regulation," Ernest Moniz said on the sidelines of an Energy Information Administration conference.

The Obama administration has made natural gas a key feature of its energy policy, but some Democratic lawmakers want stronger federal oversight of the industry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the impact of "fracking" on water, with initial results expected late next year.

"The big fight is going to be, to what extent does the EPA come in with uniform federal regulation, versus the states?" said Moniz, a physicist who was a science advisor and energy department official during the Clinton administration.

MIT completed a report on the future of natural gas last year, and is slated to release an update in late May.

Moniz said states need to play a major role in resolving water issues, but noted industry "best practices" should be used everywhere to manage wells and prevent spills.

SCRUTINY COULD AFFECT NUCLEAR PLANTS

The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan will likely raise costs for the U.S. industry, Moniz told the EIA conference.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing the nation's 104 existing plants in the wake of the disaster to see if changes are needed.

Moniz said he expects the NRC ultimately will revisit some of the plant operating licenses it has already renewed, give public and Congressional scrutiny of safety issues.

Some plants may be required to do retrofits, which would be expensive and difficult. "But my gut feeling is it's not going to be an enormous number" of plants, he said, declining afterward to speculate on how many plants could be affected.

(Editing by David Gregorio)

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