Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Congress Urges EPA to Conduct New Study on Fracking Risks to Drinking Water

It took contaminated wells in Pavillion, Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania and a thousand other places, but it looks like EPA may be doing what they should-a done back in 2004: a study of the risks that hydraulic fracturing poses to drinking water supplies. But this time, says Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D- NY) the EPA will be “using a credible approach that relies on the best available science, as well as independent sources of information.”

In a press release issued October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision authored by Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) that formally urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a new study.  The Senate is due to pass the identical bill in the coming days and President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law soon after that. Earlier in the week members of the Interior Appropriations Conference Committee, including Hinchey, signed off on the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill and report for fiscal year 2010 – the document containing the study provision.

“While natural gas certainly has an important role in our national energy policy, it's imperative that we take every step possible to ensure that our drinking water supplies are not contaminated or adversely impacted in any way,” Hinchey said. “This legislation puts Congress on record in support of a new, comprehensive study that will examine the impact that hydraulic fracking really has on our water supplies.”

At a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior in May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Hinchey and others that she felt the EPA should look into the issue and review the agency’s policy. This is an about-face for an agency that in 2004 insisted that hydraulic fracking “poses little or not threat” to drinking water supplies.

The 2004 EPA study is often cited by the gas industry whenever people bring up concerns over drinking water contamination. It also served as the basis for a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the SDWA. This meant that the oil and gas industry could inject hazardous materials directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies without undergoing further regulatory review.

Criticism of the 2004 EPA study started before the ink was dry. EPA’s own scientists said the study was “scientifically unsound” and claimed that data and reports showing problems with hydraulic fracturing were left out of the final document. The report also failed to address the fate of frack fluids left underground and toxicity of the fracking fluids and excluded data on vertical fractures or casing problems.

In contrast, Hinchey’s provision urges EPA to conduct a study “using a credible approach that relies on the best available science, as well as independent sources of information.”

Read more about the issue here

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