Thursday, July 25, 2013

House Hearing On EPA's Study Of Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts

Jul 24: The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Energy and Environment Subcommittees held a joint hearing to examine the EPA's scientific processes and how the agency conducts its investigation into the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from the: U.S. EPA; EPA Science Advisory Board, Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel; Utah Department of Natural Resources; and New York State Water Resources Institute, Cornell University.

    In its FY2010 Appropriations Committee Conference Report, Congress requested that the EPA study the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, and to use the best available science and independent sources of information. The EPA is undertaking the study using a transparent, peer-reviewed process. The Agency has engaged experts in developing an approach and continues to consult with experts and stakeholders throughout the study. In 2011, EPA began research under its Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources. The scope of the proposed research includes the full hydraulic fracturing water cycle, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and injection of fluids, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced water and its ultimate treatment and disposal. In December, 2012, the EPA released the Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources: Progress Report to provide the public with the latest information on the work being undertaken as part of the research study [See WIMS 12/21/12, WIMS 7/12/12]. On April 30, 2013, EPA announced in the Federal Register [78 FR 25267-25268] that it was extending the deadline for the public to submit data and scientific literature to inform the Agency's research from April 30, 2013, until November 15, 2013. EPA said it is extending the deadline in order to provide the public with more of an opportunity to provide feedback [See WIMS 4/30/13]. The draft EPA report that synthesizes the results of these studies is expected to be released for peer review and public comment in late 2014.

    Full Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said, "It seems that each week there is more good news about the incredible benefits of the fracking energy revolution that is underway across America. However, some choose to ignore these benefits and instead focus on finding ways to restrain, if not stifle, the new development. The EPA has too often been complicit in this effort.  They have attempted to link fracking to water contamination in at least three cases, only to be forced to retract their statements after further scrutiny proved them to be unfounded."

    Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) said, "Given EPA's rush to judgment in Wyoming, Texas, and Pennsylvania, we should question whether the agency's ongoing study is a genuine, fact-finding, scientific exercise, or a witch-hunt to find a pretext to regulate. EPA's recent announcement that it is walking away from its attempt to link hydraulic fracturing to groundwater issues in Pavillion, Wyoming [See WIMS 6/21/13] is the most recent example of the agency employing a 'shoot first, ask questions later' policy toward unconventional oil and gas production.  This marks the third case in which EPA has made sweeping allegations of fracking-caused contamination, only to have to recant these claims later due to errors, omissions and breaches of protocol. At a time when so many Americans are learning to distrust our federal government, this is another blow for the credibility of our federal agencies."

    Energy Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) said, "In this manner, the agency appears headed toward developing conclusions completely divorced from any useful context. It is akin to a weatherman warning citizens to take shelter based on the possibility that a storm will occur, without including any indication of when the storm might occur, where it might hit and how likely it is to actually take place.  I am not alone in this concern, as several of the panelists on the EPA's Science Advisory Board's Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory have similarly expressed apprehension over the lack of context the agency is providing and its neglect of risk assessment."

    Full Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening remarks, "Concerns about contamination of groundwater and drinking water have troubled us since the shale gas boom started over a decade ago. We must be careful not to sacrifice the quality of our natural water resources for the sake of cheaper gas.  We need clean water as much as we need affordable energy options.  Our water resources are already stretched to support our industrial and agricultural sectors, and residential and commercial development. We cannot afford to contaminate the limited drinking water supplies that we have.  It is in the best interest of everyone, especially the fracking industry, to resolve questions surrounding the fracking water cycle and the impact to groundwater and drinking water. Americans have a right to clean water and a healthier environment. The gas will be there, and it is up to the industry to make sure it can be produced in an environmentally sound manner."

    Subcommittee on Environment Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said, "Our surface and groundwater resources are under tremendous strain throughout the country. Population expansion, residential and industrial development, droughts, and limited precipitation not seen before in some areas of the country have all contributed to this strain.  These circumstances make access to clean water and the EPA's study even more important.  If we want to enjoy the advantages and economic benefits of shale gas development, we must do so with the highest regard for safety and the protection of our precious water resources. State, federal, and tribal leaders, in addition to Americans all over the country are alarmed about whether their drinking water is at risk, and they deserve answers to their questions." 

    Subcommittee on Energy Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA) stated, "We have to be careful that we extract this resource safely, without unintended, serious consequences to either our health or the environment. It would be very short-sighted to produce energy via fracking only to find out later that it caused damage. There is simply no place for politics when it comes to making sure that the water that our families rely on is safe, and the homes that we live in are not at risk of a man-made disaster."

    EPA testified that its "integrated approach of openness and scientific rigor is ensuring that the EPA study will provide the full range of policymakers with high quality, policy-relevant science that will inform their decision making. . . the President believes the prudent development of our oil and natural gas resources can make a critical contribution to meeting our nation's energy needs. . . We are pursuing this work with the best available science and the highest level of transparency. This study will continue to be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process in consultation with other federal agencies, appropriate State and inter-state regulatory agencies, and with input from industry, non-governmental organizations, tribal governments, and other stakeholders. As you have heard today, we will continue to collaborate with our federal partners and work with our stakeholders to address the highest priority challenges to safely and prudently develop unconventional gas and oil resources.

    Access the Republican hearing website for testimony, statements and video (click here). Access the Democratic hearing website for testimony, statements and video (click here). Access the complete FR announcement (click here). Access EPA's Progress Report (click here). Access EPA's docket for more information and to submit and review comments (click here). Access more information on the SAB panel (click here). Access more information on the EPA hydraulic fracturing study (click here). [#Energy/Frack, #Drink]

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