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Congressional Natural Gas Caucus Critical of EPA Actions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has overstepped its jurisdiction in Pennsylvania and should leave regulation of oil and gas to state officials, according to some members of Congress.

"Innuendo and alarmism about natural gas development is a disservice to the public...let's end the hyperbole and restore credibility to the policy discussions," Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), co-chairman of the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus (CNGC), said during a hearing held by the CNGC in Washington, DC, last week. "But given the federal government's track record on safety and environmental protection, let's not pretend that Washington always knows best. The most qualified and knowledgeable officials about a state's geology, its resources, its rivers, streams and environment are the regulators who live in the states."

Pennsylvania is developing "some of the most stringent standards and enforcement measures" to protect the state's residents and environment, Murphy said, but "the federal Environmental Protection Agency seems to disagree -- although how the EPA would do things differently has never been said."

A series of letters sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after DEP had announced a new enforcement action (see Shale Daily, May 16; March 9) included "no recommendations from the EPA on how the DEP should alter its review and enforcement procedures," Murphy said.

Some of EPA's actions have the potential to undermine DEP enforcement efforts, according to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who said the potential of the Marcellus Shale has put Pennsylvania regulators in a sometimes harsh spotlight.

"Increased well drilling has also brought with it unfounded skepticism about Pennsylvania's ability to properly oversee the oil and gas industry," he told the CNGC. But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (see Shale Daily, May 26) that she knows of no known cases of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), Krancer said.

"This further demonstrates that states continue to do a good job regulating hydraulic fracturing and that there is no need for the federal government to replicate what is already being done very well by the states."

According to CNGC co-chair Dan Boren (D-OK), the DEP and other state's agencies are better regulators than the federal government.

"If you look at these states where oil and gas operations are going on, you see that a lot of jobs are being created. The only thing that can stifle this growth is an uncertain regulatory environment," Boren said.

Separately, a third CNGC member, Rep. Shelley Moorer Capito (R-WV), said that during a meeting with other Republican House members at the White House Thursday she told President Obama that EPA actions are killing jobs and job growth across the country.

"Specifically in West Virginia we have two things on our mind -- out-of-control spending and an out-of-control EPA. I asked the president why the EPA is preventing job growth, and he said that if there is a law on the books that is preventing an agency from considering economic impact, then the law should be changed." EPA should have to consider economic impact and jobs, as well as environmental impact, when making decisions, Capito said.

The results of a congressionally mandated EPA study of the potential adverse impact of fracking on drinking water and public health is not expected until late next year (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010).

Last month the Obama administration called for a broad-based panel to be formed to examine potential risks associated with fracking (see Shale Daily, April 4). That study would be in addition to the ongoing EPA fracking study.

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