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Lawmakers Question EPA Chief on Fracking Study

Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy to explain how the agency's forays into three controversial sites will affect its comprehensive study of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

At issue are EPA investigations into claims that fracking polluted groundwater in Dimock Township, PA; Pavillion, WY; and Parker County, TX. The EPA has since concluded the water in Dimock is safe to drink, and it withdrew a claim that fracking was responsible for contaminating water wells in Parker County, and it retracted a report alleging the same in Pavillion (see Shale Daily, April 29; July 26, 2012; April 2, 2012).

"In all three cases, EPA asserted its jurisdiction to investigate alleged water contamination only to later abandon the investigation and let the states take control," the committee said Tuesday, adding that it hopes "to better understand the decisions to insert itself and then later close these inquiries, how these cases are informing the broader hydraulic fracturing study, and the current status of the comprehensive study."

Seven GOP lawmakers on the committee -- Reps. Fred Upton (MI), Joe Barton (TX), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Tim Murphy (PA), Michael Burgess (TX), John Shimkus (IL) and Ed Whitfield (KY) -- sent McCarthy a six-page letter with 13 questions about the EPA's involvement. They asked McCarthy to respond by Aug. 13.

Specifically, the lawmakers want to know how much money the EPA spent on the Dimock, Parker County and Pavillion investigations, whether findings at those sites would be incorporated into the EPA's fracking study, and how many times the agency investigated similar claims over the last five years.

Regarding Pavillion, lawmakers want to know whether the agency anticipates providing support to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which have taken on inspections for the state (see Shale Daily, June 24).

American Petroleum Institute spokesman Zachary Cikanek told NGI's Shale Daily that the group wasn't surprised members of Congress were questioning the EPA's credibility on fracking.

"We've seen the EPA jump to conclusions that had to be withdrawn in the face of scientific scrutiny," Cikanek said Wednesday. "And in all three cases -- Pavillion, Parker County and Dimock -- a thorough examination of the facts has shown that hydraulic fracturing is safe.

"America is undergoing an economic renaissance fueled by energy from shale, which supported over 1.7 million jobs in 2012," he said. "America cannot afford to lose jobs to bad science. It's critical that the EPA provide the highest level of transparency in its evaluation of this important subject."

The EPA announced plans to study the potential risks of fracking on water quality and public health in March 2010 (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010). Environmentalists and some lawmakers contend that the chemicals used in fracking are a health risk, but producers said they are confident that the study, if conducted objectively, would show fracking to be safe.

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