US House science panel leaders say White House hinders shale gas

26 April 2013 18:27  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Leading House Science Committee members on Friday charged the Obama administration with “embarrassing and unsubstantiated allegations” against hydraulic fracturing in an effort to hinder US development of shale gas.

Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said that “it is difficult to overstate the incredible benefits of the fracking energy revolution that is underway across America”.

He cited new oil and gas production from the Eagle Ford shale play in Texas, adding that “the economic benefits and job opportunities associated with this shale boom – not just in Texas but across the nation – is arguably the brightest spot in an otherwise still stagnant economy”.

“Unfortunately, a widely publicised handful of unsubstantiated charges that fracking pollutes ground water has led many to question the safety of this practice,” Smith said.

Referring to challenged fracking studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he added: “The EPA is at the centre of this debate, linking fracking to water contamination in at least three cases, only to be forced to retract their statements after further scrutiny.”

Representative Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, chair of the Science panel’s Subcommittee on Energy, noted that in April last year President Barack Obama ordered formation of a multi-agency task force to coordinate fracking investigations already under way among 13 federal agencies and White House offices.

Lummis said that while the multiple agencies involved in that task force promised a draft fracking research plan by October 2012 and a final plan by January this year, “today, a year after the president’s announcement, the administration has not even released a draft version of its plan for public comment”.

She noted that the White House spent $45m (€35m) on the proposed task force study last year and is seeking an additional $38m for the undertaking this year.

But, she said, “before Congress redirects tens of millions of dollars for this research effort, the administration must tell us what it wants to spend this money on”.

“Bringing sunlight to these activities is especially important give the administration’s embarrassing track record of unsubstantiated allegations when it comes to hydraulic fracturing,” Lummis said.

Speaking at a joint hearing of her subcommittee and the Science panel’s Environment Subcommittee, Lummis noted that the committee had asked senior EPA policy counsellor Bob Sussman to testify, but that EPA had declined to have him appear at Friday’s dual-committee session.

“EPA’s lack of cooperation is unacceptable, and only raises further questions regarding the agency’s transparency and ultimate intentions regarding fracking,” she said.

Representative Chris Stewart of Utah, chairman of the Environment Subcommittee, said he too was disappointed that Sussman was not made available for the committees and that EPA declined to explain why he was absent.

“This is especially concerning,” Stewart said, “as EPA’s past and on-going hydraulic fracturing studies and investigations demonstrate a cart-before-the-horse approach to the science.”

“That should make members [of Congress] think seriously about whether a blank check for the administration is a good policy,” he said.

Saying that major increases in production of shale gas have helped cut US emissions of greenhouse gases, Stewart said that “it is both ironic and troubling that many of the most passionate advocates for action on climate change also oppose fracking”.

“This should give pause to the EPA and any other agency that seeks to hinder development of our unconventional natural gas resources,” he said.

A lower-level EPA official appearing instead of Sussman told the panel that, given the requested funding, the inter-agency task force could have its fracking research plan ready by the end of 2014.

($1 = €0.77)

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

By: Joe Kamalick
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