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House Caucus Calls on Interior to Back Off from Hydrofracking Rules

At least until the Environmental Protection Agency completes its 2010-2012 study on hydraulic fracturing.

The 32-member Congressional Natural Gas Caucus Wednesday called on Congress to back off from imposing any new  hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) regulations on producers until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completes its study on the risks of hydrofracking to public health and water quality.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Dan Boren (D-OK) said that "hastily proposed regulatory burdens on natural gas will increase energy costs for consumers, suppress job creation in a promising energy sector [shale gas] and hinder our nation's ability to become more energy independent."

In early December Salazar said the department was weighing how to move forward with a policy requiring producers to disclose the fluids used in hydrofracking of shale rock on public lands. Interior's Bureau of Land Management oversees 250 million acres, which contains 11% of the nation's natural gas supply.

Hydrofracking is a process in which fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to fracture the rock and increase the flow of fossil fuels. Opponents contend that the use of hydrofracking fluids should be regulated at the federal level under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, saying they have seeped into groundwater supplies across the nation. But proponents argue that the states should continue to regulate the practice.

Environmentalists contend that the hydrofracking process is a hazard, while oil and gas producers contend otherwise. "We...would note that the vast majority of scientific evidence shows hydraulic fracturing to be safe, less resources-intensive for the environment than traditional methods, and properly managed and regulated at the state level," said Murphy and Boren, both of whom hail from gas-producing states.

Last March the EPA began its study of the potential risks of hydrofracking used in gas shales. Producers say they are confident that the study -- if conducted objectively -- will show hydrofracking to be safe.

"[The EPA] has yet to fully review or even gather all the data necessary to complete the congressionally directed study," the two lawmakers said.

Murphy said Interior action on hydrofracking would discourage domestic gas production at time when the country needs it more than ever. "The administration has already decided to block offshore oil and gas exploration. Making it more difficult to safely access America's natural gas supply will only serve to enrich OPEC and stymie job growth," he said.

Boren agreed, saying that "circumventing the U.S. Congress by carte blanche issuing new burdensome regulations on natural gas development will not only hurt the economic recovery -- it's bad policy."

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