Subcommittee Questions Administration Intentions on Fracking

Apr 26, 2013

Washington D.C. – The Subcommittees on Energy and Environment today held a hearing to review federal hydraulic fracturing research activities. The hearing examined research activities pursuant to an agreement signed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Interior (DOI) in April of 2012, which created an interagency effort to “address the highest priority challenges” related to the production of domestic unconventional oil and natural gas resources.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “We all want to ensure safe and responsible production of oil and natural gas, but the combination of the administration’s track record on fracking and the delays associated with developing these plans provide cause for concern.

“Unfortunately, a widely publicized handful of unsubstantiated charges that fracking pollutes ground water has led many to question the safety of this practice.  The EPA is at the center of this debate, linking fracking to water contamination in at least three cases, only to be forced to retract their statements after further scrutiny.”

Members questioned administration witnesses on the objectives of the interagency initiative as they relate to the administration’s regulatory intentions and track record of unsubstantiated attacks on the safety of hydraulic fracturing.  Members also questioned administration witnesses on progress made under this Memorandum of Agreement and asked the agencies to explain why information and details on this effort have not been forthcoming.

The administration’s interagency working group committed to release a draft of their research plan by October 2012 and complete the final plan by January 2013.  The Administration has yet to even release a draft for public comment. And in addition to last year’s $45 million request, the President is seeking an additional $38 million in fiscal year 2014.

Energy Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.): “Before Congress redirects tens of millions of dollars for this research effort, the administration must tell us what it wants to spend this money on. Bringing sunlight to these activities is especially important given the administration’s embarrassing track record of unsubstantiated allegations when it comes to hydraulic fracturing. Pavillion, a small town in my state of Wyoming, is at the center of this storm. In late 2011, EPA put Pavillion in the national spotlight with a “draft” report implying that fracking was somehow responsible for the quality of the water in the areas near the town. However, in the days and weeks that followed this announcement, the State of Wyoming, industry, and other federal agencies exposed EPA’s study as deeply flawed. Former Administrator Lisa Jackson even admitted to me during questioning at another committee that the EPA was not confident it had discovered drinking water contamination in Pavillion related to fracking.”

The EPA declined to provide the witness the Committee invited to testify and failed to provide a reason for the absence of Mr. Sussman, their policy representative to the interagency effort.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-Utah): “While I hope the EPA had a good reason for its refusal to make Mr. Sussman available, they did not share this reason with us. This is especially concerning, as EPA’s past and ongoing hydraulic fracturing studies and investigations demonstrate a cart-before-the-horse approach to the science that should make Members think seriously about whether a blank check for the administration is a good policy.”

After chairing a hearing yesterday that reviewed the science behind climate change, Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart noted that largely as a result of the expanded use of cheap natural gas from 2005 to 2011, the U.S. “decreased its carbon dioxide output more than any other nation, including those countries that have implemented aggressive green energy agendas, such as Germany and Spain.” Chairman Stewart said, “It is both ironic and troubling that many of the most passionate advocates for action on climate change also oppose fracking.”

The hearing builds upon extensive prior work related to EPA attacks on the safety of hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas production, including a hearing on EPA actions in Pavillion as well as correspondence detailing concerns with EPA’s broader hydraulic fracturing study effort. 

The following witnesses testified today:

Dr. Kevin Teichman, Senior Science Advisor, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency
Mr. Guido DeHoratiis, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Gas, Office of Fossil Energy, Department of Energy
Dr. David Russ, Regional Executive, Northeast Area, U.S. Geological Survey
Dr. Robin Ikeda, Acting Director, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Department of Health and Human Services