Leading House Republican targets EPA plan to regulate shale gas

21 October 2011 20:50  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A leading House Republican may move to block or restrict new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to regulate wastewater generated by shale gas production, saying on Friday that the agency is acting prematurely and without scientific justification.

Congressman Ralph Hall (Republican-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, slammed the EPA’s announcement that within months, it would begin developing rules governing wastewater treatment in shale gas production.

Shale gas production involves hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the injection of water and some chemicals under high pressure into deep rock shale formations to free trapped gas reserves.

Shale gas development, which can be achieved only with the fracking process, has revolutionised the US natural gas industry and enabled vast new gas resources previously thought to be unrecoverable.

The US petrochemicals industry is heavily dependent on natgas as a feedstock and has hailed shale gas as “a game-changer” for the sector.  As many as two or three new greenfield petrochemical crackers are being considered by major US producers to take advantage of newly abundant shale gas supplies.

Critics of fracking charge that the process jeopardises groundwater aquifers and wells, and some in Congress and in state governments want the technology banned or severely restricted.

Hall said that he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the EPA’s plan to begin regulating shale gas wastewater treatment.

Shale gas production “is critical to America’s economic growth, yet this administration is intent on regulating it by any means possible”, Hall said.

“Most concerning about this announcement, however, is that EPA is once again putting its regulatory cart in front of the scientific horse,” Hall said.

The EPA and other federal agencies have come under increasing criticism from Republicans and some in the academic community for inadequate or corrupted science underlying major regulatory initiatives.

Hall noted that EPA had earlier undertaken a two-year study of fracking and its possible impact on drinking water supplies, with a resulting report not expected until late 2013.

“While I have major concerns with the scope and balance of EPA’s proposed study, I am even more concerned that the agency has decided to pursue new regulations before performing the research and scientific analysis necessary to determine whether they are warranted,” Hall said.

In a hearing before his committee in May, Hall and witnesses charged that EPA’s examination of fracking was biased against the process from the start.

Hall was joined in his criticism of the EPA plan to begin regulating shale gas production by Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Inhofe said in a statement that he would closely monitor EPA’s plans and charged that the agency’s move to regulate shale gas production is “part of Obama’s war on affordable energy, an effort to regulate fossil fuels out of existence”.

Hall’s spokesman said that the chairman does not plan any immediate hearings or legislation on the EPA’s plans to regulate shale gas, but that such actions are possible.

Zachary Kurz said that Hall’s concerns about the administration’s policies on shale gas production “have only grown larger”.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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