EPA’s Fracking ‘Witch Hunt’ Decried by GOP

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Republicans bashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s three-year investigation of the effects hydraulic fracturing has on drinking water, calling the agency’s efforts a “witch hunt” that demonizes a job-creating system of developing cheap natural gas.
     The joint hearing held Wednesday by the subcommittees on the environment and energy, two arms of the House Committee Science, Space and Technology, was Congress’ response to the EPA’s abrupt abandonment of its investigation of hydraulic fracturing – a controversial practice known as fracking – in Pavillion, Wyo., after linking contamination of Pavillion’s drinking water to fracking.
     “EPA’s science is so bad when it comes to Pavilion, Wyoming, that it has embarrassed me as a previous defender of the EPA,” said Wyoming Republican Cynthia Lummis, angrily pointing a finger at the two EPA officials present to testify. “It humiliated and destroyed a lot of opportunities for fracking by industry in Wyoming.”
     She added: “We have a very sophisticated, world-class oil and gas industry in Wyoming because we are such an enormous producer, and to have that kind of science released as a draft study when it was so faulty – it was probably the EPA itself that polluted the wells – that it completely shattered my ability as a Republican trying to defend the EPA.”
     Lummis was referring to a 2011 EPA draft report that blamed fracking for the pollution of a Pavillion aquifer.
     According to that draft report, “a pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at lease one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results.”
     On Wednesday, the GOP attacked the methodology of the EPA investigation, focusing their frustrations on Dr. Fred Hauchman and Dr. David Dzombak, the EPA’s science policy director and chair of the hydraulic fracturing research advisory panel, respectively.
     Hauchman said he is focusing on the drinking water study.
     “And I sit here with confidence telling you that we are conducting a rigorous study that will be following all appropriate procedures,” he added.
     But Republicans were out for blood over the impugning of a process they claim is a safe method of harvesting cheap shale gas while creating thousands of jobs.
     “What we have is a motive for those pushing more and more regulation,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said. “The motive is to wean … the American people off an oil and gas industry, and our dependency on that as our basic source of energy, and that motive is based on the idea that oil and gas is changing the climate of the Earth. … I hope we take an honest look at the safety of the American people in this new way of producing gas, and that we don’t approach it to placate the desire of a fanatic group of people in our country who want to change our system because they believe that the climate of the earth is being changed because people drive automobiles.”
     Democrats hesitated in their timid defense of the agency, but spoke of the importance of caution before embracing a form of gas production that could have environmental and geological implications.
     “If we want to enjoy the economic advantages of shale gas development, we must do so with the highest regard for the safety of our public drinking water,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said.
     Environmental regulators say the hydraulic fracturing process starts with an injection of chemicals and water into a well to create cracks in the geological formation, allowing oil or gas to escape through the well and be collected at the surface.
     The agency says the chemicals could be spilled during the mixing process – creating ground- and surface-water contamination – or it could leak through the injection well walls because of inadequate well construction and operation. It worries that metals or radioactive materials that are mobilized during fracking can potentially be released into drinking water aquifers during the injection process.
     When the pressure in the well is released, the water and natural gas flow back to the top and, the EPA says, can potentially contaminate drinking water through spills or leakage from on-site storage.
     The wastewater is then disposed of by underground injection or recycled.
     John Rogers, the associate director of Utah’s Oil, Gas and Mining Division, testified that stringent rules are in place to prevent drinking water contamination in his state and others. Rogers said oil and gas harvesters have to disclose the chemicals used in the process, ensure the integrity of their wells and manage the flowback water so that the surface is protected.
     Despite the industry’s precautions, the EPA’s test results indicating a contamination of drinking water in Pavillion prompted the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substance & Disease Registry to recommend to residents against drinking or cooking with the water, which was reported as having an “acidic” smell.
     The 2011 draft report issued by the EPA connecting fracking to the Pavillion drinking water contamination led to industry outcry and anger from Republicans.
     “This is akin to a weatherman telling people to take shelter based on the possibility that a storm will occur without any indication of when, where or how likely it will take place,” Lummis said.
     Full committee chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, noted that the “incredible benefits of the fracking energy revolution” is being stifled by EPA’s “unfounded scrutiny.”
     Utah Republican Chris Stewart, who chairs the Subcommittee on the Environment, closed the two-hour hearing by lecturing Hauchman and Dzombak for not being responsive to congressional concern and asking them to pledge their cooperation in the future.

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