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States, Industry, Congress Put EPA On Defensive

Industry experts told members of Congress that shale gas should be regulated by the states without interference from the federal government, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to clarify its plan to develop national pretreatment standards for wastewater.

During a two-hour hearing Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Oklahoma Corporation Commission Chair Dana Murphy urged federal officials to show restraint.

"The best thing that the federal government and federal agencies can do is encourage and facilitate the states to work together to come up with good rules and regulations for their appropriate states and across the region," Murphy said.

James Hanlon, EPA director for the Office of Wastewater Management, conceded that the geology was different among the states where hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was occurring, but he said the geological differences were "irrelevant."

"The regulation that we began last month is one that would deal with pretreatment requirements for wastewater that go to either municipally owned wastewater treatment plants or to centralized waste treatment facilities," Hanlon said. "It has nothing to do with what happens in the well or how that water is taken out, but rather whether it needs to be pretreated and whether some baseline technology should be applied."

The EPA said it was considering a national pretreatment plan in October (see Shale Daily, Oct. 21). The agency argues that some facilities are not properly equipped to treat wastewater from shale gas wells.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Krancer said the EPA's plans were unnecessary because state regulators -- including the DEP, which has developed its own technical guidance -- were already handling the issue (see Shale Daily, Nov. 8).

"I'm not sure how [the EPA's plan] fits in," Krancer said. "Pennsylvania took care of its POTW [publicly owned treatment works] and CWT [centralized wastewater treatment] end of things. The reason we're here today is because the EPA is trying to give us free advice on things we had already done."

Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-NY) pressed Krancer on the issue, arguing that the EPA's proposal was good for the country and that Pennsylvania's input into those plans would be helpful.

"Do you not see Pennsylvania as a model for the rest of the country?" Bishop asked. "Do you not see the legitimacy of a minimum national standard that would emulate Pennsylvania? Why would you not want your neighboring states to have the same concern?"

But Krancer called the issue a red herring. "The question is whether the states are capable and can do a good job," he said. "The answer has been 'yes,' and I've heard that from the EPA here today. Not every state does [fracking regulation]. It's also a matter of philosophy. If we have the federal government establish [a standard], we would get the lowest common denominator."

During the hearing Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) touched on a controversial study conducted by Duke University in May that claimed high levels of methane were found in water wells near Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania. He asked Krancer if Duke was still refusing to share its data and sample locations with the DEP (see Shale Daily, June 8; May 11).

"They've been very secretive," Krancer said. "It's been like trying to get information from the CIA."

Harris countered, "That's pretty interesting because, like the CIA, they actually get federal funding to do some of this work. I think the taxpayers deserve to know that [information]. As a scientist, I think it's unbelievable that a group purporting to do scientific, carefully done research, which is frequently quoted, would not be willing to share that data."

Rep. Bob Gibbs, the subcommittee chairman, put a conciliatory tone at the conclusion of the hearing.

"The purpose was to bring both sides out into the open to make sure that the EPA and their respective state EPAs can work collaboratively and we can develop this natural resource," Gibbs said. "We have a huge opportunity to experience in our lifetimes."

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