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Ohio Utica Shale

Congressional hearing on EPA's science approach to fracking

By Bob Downing Published: July 25, 2013

From the Associated Press:

 Scientific advisers were on the hot seat Wednesday during a congressional hearing to examine the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's approach to research on health and safety implications of hydraulic fracturing.

Republicans on the House Science Subcommittees on Environment and Energy blasted the agency's approach to an ongoing study of the effects of fracking on drinking water.

Environment Subcommittee chairman Chris Stewart, R-Utah, asked whether the study is "a genuine, fact-finding, scientific exercise or a witch hunt to find a pretext to regulate."

The hearing came after the EPA suspended a separate study after a controversial draft report tied aquifer pollution to fracking in Pavillion, Wyo. Drillers criticized the methodology, but the EPA stood by the data even as it backed away from conclusions researchers drew from it.

"EPA's recent announcement that it is walking away from its attempt to link hydraulic fracturing to groundwater issues in Pavillion, Wyo., is the most recent example of a 'shoot first, ask questions later' policy toward unconventional oil and gas production," Mr. Stewart said.

Now Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, suggested limiting the scope of other EPA research, including an ongoing series of studies being advised by a panel headed by Carnegie Mellon engineering professor David A. Dzombak.

"Their track record and bias makes the EPA's ongoing study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources even more troubling," Mr. Smith said during a hearing Wednesday.

He and other Republicans said the research is focused on the possibility of water contamination rather than the probability of it.

"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," said Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

Mr. Dzombak, chairman of the EPA's Science Advisory Board, said the research is providing a "risk framework" but not the kind of quantitative risk analysis Ms. Lummis seeks.

Fred Hauchman, director of the EPA's Office of Science Policy, who was not involved in the Pavillion study, defended his researchers' current work.

"This is a solid study," he said. "We have put in place for this study all the appropriate policies procedures and protocols to ensure that the data we generate, the analysis we conduct, the methods we use and the models we employ are appropriate and will produce quality results."

Democrats on the panel said the research is providing important answers.

"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," said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, the Environment Subcommittee's ranking Democrat.

Republican lawmakers said the EPA appears zealously headed toward unnecessary regulation based on flawed research into possible environmental problems rather than probable ones.

"It appears to me that much of what is happening is a push for more regulation, a push to look and try to find something as an excuse to stop this fracking," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. "They're not doing this because there is a motive to protect us."

Brian G. Rahm of the New York State Water Resources Institute testified that research doesn't have to lead to stringent regulation.

Identification of risk does not mean that an activity shouldn't proceed, he said.

"To not know the benefits and risks of shale gas development while the activity is new is fair enough," he said. "But to not know them a decade from now because we either ignored issues or refused to dress them would be irresponsible."

Republicans cautioned against focusing too much on environmental risks without putting them in the context of benefits to energy independence, national security and the economy.

"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," Mr. Smith said."

Democrats, though, said the research is sound, useful and important.

"Some, especially from the industry, submit that no additional studies are needed, that Americans should trust that the industry knows what it's doing or that federal interference is unnecessary because states are already implementing their best practices," Ms. Bonamici said. "But without a better understanding of the fracking water cycle and the impacts to drinking water and groundwater, we will not know enough about the potential risks to equip states and localities with the tools necessary to keep their citizens healthy and safe."



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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.