Federal regulation of the well stimulation technique known as hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) would hamstring the oil and natural gas industry and likely would force the U.S. to import natural gas from foreign sources, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) told the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last Wednesday.

States have already shown that they are capable of regulating hydrofracing, a procedure to unlock natural gas trapped in shale rock, and an EPA study on the process shouldn't be used to justify usurping state regulators in favor of federal standards, wrote Sensenbrenner, the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

A 2004 EPA study "found no risk of contamination of drinking water from fracturing," he noted. But the EPA's announcement that it would conduct another two-year, $2 million study could put the industry on hold while companies wait for the results, according to Sensenbrenner (see NGI, March 22).

The first casualty could be the proposed merger between ExxonMobil and XTO Energy Inc., one of the country's leading natural gas producers, he said (see NGI, Jan. 25). Their merger is contingent upon Congress not passing laws that make hydrofracing "illegal or commercially impracticable."

Claims by senior EPA officials that the study would be transparent, peer reviewed and include stakeholder input were not reassuring, Sensenbrenner said, given the agency's history on issues such as the endangerment finding on greenhouse gas emissions.

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