Today the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to review the technology and practices of hydraulic fracturing (also referred to as "fracking") for energy production. Witnesses questioned the methods, scope, and objectivity of a draft study plan released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), looking into the long term effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. All of the witnesses, including Dr. Paul Anastas of the EPA, conceded that not a single case of drinking water contamination has ever been substantiated in the U.S.
"Unfortunately, objectivity is not EPA's strong suit," noted Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) in his opening remarks, "and its draft study plan is yet another example of this Administration's desire to stop domestic energy development through regulation."
Hall continued, "The study intends to identify the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, without ever taking into consideration the probability that such an effect may occur, or the ability of industry best practices, state laws and direct oversight, and existing Federal laws to manage the risk associated with hydraulic fracturing."
When asked about the EPA study not objectively characterizing the risk of groundwater contamination, Mr. Harold Fitch, a Michigan State Geologist, agreed that it is a problem. "By not putting [the study] in context, it lends itself to being misused by people who are opposed to energy development," Fitch said.
Hydraulic fracturing has been conducted in several states for more than 50 years without any evidence of contaminated drinking water. Hydraulic fracturing enables the safe extraction of almost 5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas each year which makes up nearly 30 percent of domestic oil and natural gas production. Mrs. Elizabeth Ames Jones, Chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, praised the technology for all it has done for the American economy and for improving quality of life. "The numbers do not lie," Mrs. Jones said. "In Texas alone, we could lose over 364,000 jobs and almost $37 billion if this practice is outlawed. The numbers for the entire country are even greater. The truth is that America and Texas benefit substantially due to the practice of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling."
Critical of the EPA study plan, Dr. Michael Economides, a Professor at the University of Houston, said that "There are many, many deficiencies and concerns with respect to EPA's hydraulic fracturing study." Economides said that judging by the methods by which the EPA is conducting their study, "it is clear that the intent is to gain regulatory authority over hydraulic fracturing. And the consumer will bear that cost." Economides summed up his remarks by simply saying, "No frack, no gas."
Dr. Cal Cooper, with the Apache Corporation, also questioned the need for the EPA to conduct a study on drinking water. Dr. Cooper said that any risks associated with fracking "are minimal and manageable." He said that "Alarmist sensationalism, especially when it purports to be science, is destructive, and this topic has enjoyed more than its fair share of that already."
Cooper concluded his testimony saying, "Hydraulic fracturing is far too important to be dismissed for the wrong reasons."
Aside from the important policy discussions involved with today's hearing, Chairman Hall also admonished the Administration and the EPA for refusing to allow Dr. Anastas to testify on the same panel with non-government witnesses, as has been the practice of this Committee in the past. Chairman Hall personally wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson several weeks ago, inquiring as to the rationale behind EPA's decision to treat this situation differently from prior practice. The Administrator failed to respond to the letter.
"The lack of courtesy and professionalism being displayed is counter to the President's stated goal that his Administration would work cooperatively with the 112th Congress. EPA's actions are unacceptable and will be remembered," Hall said.