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EPA Asked to Review Policy on Hydraulic Fracturing

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) Tuesday called on the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the agency's policy on the risk of hydraulic fracturing -- where chemicals are used to stimulate oil and natural gas production -- to the nation's drinking water.

Hinchey, who advocates closing the loophole that exempts hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), made the plea during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior hearing, where EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified.

"I was extremely pleased that EPA Administrator Jackson recognized the need for the EPA to reexamine the Bush administration's misguided views on the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. We are in a much stronger position to protect our drinking water now that we have an administration in place that is committed to environmental protection," he said.

"While there is value in drilling for natural gas, it's imperative that we do so in a manner that doesn't have long-term environmental consequences on our drinking water."

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which Hinchey said he voted against, exempted hydraulic fracturing from the SDWA, which seeks to protect the public water supply from contamination from toxic materials.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracing," involves the injection of fluids into wells at extremely high pressures to crack open underground formations and stimulate the flow of oil and gas. More than 90% of oil and gas wells in the United States employ hydraulic fracturing, according to Hinchey.

A 2004 EPA study, which Hinchey claims was biased toward the oil and gas industry, concluded that fracturing did not pose a risk to the public drinking water. However, he noted that more than 1,000 reported contamination incidents in New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado have cast significant doubt on the report's findings.

A coalition of oil and gas producers, known as the Energy In Depth Coalition, earlier this month said that saddling producers with "new, unnecessary and ineffective environmental regulations" could put them out of business, destroy jobs and increase U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy. The group added that this is especially true if lawmakers move forward with plans to target hydraulic fracturing (see Daily GPI, May 8).

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