Political Pressure Limits Efforts to Police Drilling for Gas

The New York Times reported that for over a quarter-century efforts to increase federal regulation of the oil and gas industry have been undermined by narrowing the scope of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies and leaving out key findings.  In 1987, for example, EPA researchers' conclusion that some of the waste from oil and gas drilling was hazardous and should be tightly controlled was left out of the final report given to Congress.  EPA officials told Carla Greathouse, the author of the study, that her conclusion was changed because of pressure from the Office of Legal Counsel of the Reagan White House.

The EPA studied hydrofracking in 2004, when Congress considered whether the process should be fully regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act.  An early draft report commented on the potentially dangerous levels of contamination in hydrofracking fluids and mentioned possible contamination of an aquifer. The report’s final version left out these points, concluding instead that hydrofracking “poses little or no threat to drinking water.”

In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Drilling companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed to inject known hazardous materials underground adjacent to drinking water supplies.

Just last year, the EPA was going to call for a moratorium on gas hydrofracking drilling in the New York watershed, but the advice was removed from a public letter sent to the state.  EPA lawyers are debating whether to intervene in Pennsylvania to stop drilling waste from being discharged into rivers and streams with minimal treatment, a practice that some of the lawyers see as a violation of federal law.   EPA scientists are alarmed that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania.

An investigation by ProPublica found that hydraulic fracturing, has not received the same scientific scrutiny as the processes used for many other energy sources.  Over a thousand reports of water contamination from drilling across the country that ProPublica collected on surface spills and underground seepage cast serious doubts on drilling companies' insistence that methane and toxic chemicals remain sealed far below water aquifers. See the ProPublica article:

Natural Gas Drilling:  What We Don't Know

The EPA is currently undertaking a scientific study that tracks the fracturing process and attempts to measure its reach into underground water supplies.   Some EPA scientists are concerned that the scope of this national study of hydrofracking that Congress will use to decide whether drillers will have to operate under stricter rules is also being narrowed.  Many concerns cited by field scientists in earlier documents as high priorities were cut from the later study plan. Find further details in the New York Times article:

EPA Struggles to Regulate Natural Gas Industry

The U.S. Senate and House will be considering the FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act which would require natural gas drillers to observe the Safe Drinking Water Act and to disclose the chemicals it uses.