House lawmakers grilled the nation's two top officials on nuclear safety — Dr. Stephen Chu of the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko — about the ongoing crisis in Japan and security at U.S. nuclear plants.
But Chu was also drawn into an exchange with Texas Congressman Michael Burgess on a different energy topic: natural gas.
Burgess' district lies atop the natural gas-rich Barnett Shale, and Burgess is a supporter of the controversial extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," which has also been proposed in parts of upstate New York.
When asked whether fracking can be done safely, Chu starts to give a "Yes, but..." answer.
The exchange is well worth a listen, especially toward the end, when Burgess seems to offer Chu a kind of compromise: robust government oversight of drilling, to reassure the public that their groundwater is not in danger.
The Department of Energy has no direct role regulating natural gas drilling, but it does fund research and development, including initiatives to protect groundwater and assess risk.