U.S. EPA has to stay the course and complete its study on hydraulic fracturing: editorial

U.S. EPA has to stay the course and complete its study on hydraulic fracturing: editorial by The Plain Dealer Editorial Board, July 20, 2013, The Plain Dealer
By now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was supposed to be close to answering a crucial question posed by the U.S. Congress in 2010 during the oil and gas boom in Ohio and other states: Is hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, safe for nearby aquifers and wells that produce drinking water for thousands of people? The fracking process uses water, sand and chemical additives to release oil and gas deposits deep underground. But it’s not close — and don’t expect an answer anytime soon, either.  The EPA has shamefully dropped the ball on this important investigation, pushing back the study’s timetable by two years. Instead of completing the fracking study in late 2014 as planned, the EPA recently announced that it will complete its study in 2016 and give a preliminary report in late 2014.  That’s unacceptable. Communities in Ohio and elsewhere where fracking is occurring need a timely and objective study to help determine whether their drinking water supply is endangered and, if so, what extra measures might be warranted to protect this essential resource. Jeanne Briskin, coordinator of hydraulic fracturing research at the EPA Office of Research and Development, told an audience in Cleveland recently that “complex research” caused the delay. But critics say that the real problem is complex politics. Not only is the EPA dragging its feet on this nationwide study, but it also recently handed off to Wyoming state officials a 2011 draft report that appeared to show that 13 different chemical compounds commonly used in hydraulic fracturing had polluted an aquifer in the town of Pavillion, Wyo. The agency said in June that Wyoming state EPA officials could better complete the study — but that decision came only after howls from the drilling industry and an angry letter from Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma. Moreover, the EPA’s reason for its retreat is ludicrous. Despite budget cutbacks, the EPA has far better resources than state officials, not to mention the expertise, to determine if the Wyoming findings hold up and what they mean to the drilling industry and to people who depend on the aquifers to slake their thirst. Such a retreat  also sets a worrisome precedent.  The EPA can’t duck every time it releases a controversial report.  It has to stand behind the science and take the heat. There’s some hope that the EPA will grow a backbone now that the agency finally has a permanent leader. After EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson quit earlier this year, President Barack Obama chose Gina McCarthy, an EPA insider with a reputation for working with liberals and conservatives alike, to replace Jackson. McCarthy was confirmed by the Senate last week as part of a broader deal that also won long-delayed confirmation for Richard Cordray at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. With that hurdle behind her, McCarthy needs to ensure that the EPA’s study on the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources gets on track, and stays on track. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

The Big Squeeze: North American Regulator and Protective Agency
Close Controversial Groundwater Contamination Cases Press Release by BC Tap Water Alliance, July 12, 2013

 On June 13, Alberta-based Environmental consultant Jessica Ernst’s catalogue of case
studies on North American groundwater contamination from fracking is submitted to the
United Kingdom Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment, Oil & Gas Licensing.
 On June 14, the ERCB shut down an 8-year long investigation into a groundwater
contamination case on the Campbell’s property, a rural Alberta cattle ranch. Gas migration
from fracking contaminated the Campbell’s drinking water.
 On June 15, Encana, one of Canada’s largest energy corporations, failed to meet a deadline
in filing its Statement of Defence to Alberta Chief Justice Wittmann in the Ernst Versus
Encana court case, Canada’s first legal case on groundwater contamination from fracking.
(To date, Encana has not yet filed)
 On June 17, the BC Tap Water Alliance press release on Jessica Ernst’s catalogue of North
American groundwater contamination from fracking was posted throughout the world.
 On June 18, the EPA announced a two year delay of its critical and comprehensive study on fracking, which is to include an assessment of groundwater contamination.
 On June 20, the EPA suddenly announced that it was pulling out of its four-year old
Pavillion, Wyoming water contamination investigation, and that the State of Wyoming
would take charge. Canadian-based Encana Corporation, under investigation by the EPA for
groundwater contamination at Pavillion, announced that it will contribute $1.5 million to the
investigation. ]

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