EARTHWORKS

The New Culture War: How Politics Trumps Science in EPA’s Investigations of Fracking

Aaron Mintzes's avatar
By Aaron Mintzes

July 26, 2013

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Roger Pielke Jr.'s Blog rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com

Back in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the extraordinary step of issuing an Emergency Administrative Order under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) against Range Resources after the Lipsky family of Parker County, TX reported they could light their water on fire.

The EPA immediately began an investigation. They commissioned a well-respected scientist, Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, to conduct an independent analysis of the water to determine whether Range’s wells might have been the source of the methane contaminating the Lipsky’s water supply. The Thyne report revealed that Range could indeed have caused the methane.

Soon after the EPA shut down Range’s wells, industry began exerting enormous political pressure on the agency. Then, curiously, the EPA backed off. They suddenly reached a settlement with Range and abruptly ended their investigation. Even the Texas Railroad Commission- the oddly named regulator of the Lone Star state’s oil and gas- piled on. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) sent a letter to the EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) demanding an investigation in to whether EPA had properly followed their own policies and procedures when EPA decided to issue their order against Range.

OIG’s report on their findings from their investigation is imminent.

There’s a pattern here. Nearly everywhere EPA begins investigating the dangers in the Gaspatch, they later shy away. EPA recently turned over their investigation of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, WY over to the polluters themselves, EnCana. EPA also backed away from the people of Dimock, PA. And they recently announced their long awaited study on fracking’s effects on water resources would take an additional two years. Even simple things like their Guidance for the use of diesel fuels in hydraulic fracturing keeps gathering dust sitting on a shelf somewhere in the bowls of the government bureaucracy.

The political tug-of-war between the scientists at EPA and Congress continued on Thursday during a House Science Committee hearing entitled “Lessons Learned: EPA’s Investigations of Hydraulic Fracturing”. The hearing provided an opportunity for the House Majority to slam the EPA for investigating Pavillion, Dimock, and Parker County. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis shared her story about growing up on a ranch next to an oil refinery that polluted the drinking water used by her family’s cattle. In response, the EPA stepped in and ordered clean up at the refinery. After graciously expressing her gratefulness to the EPA for their assistance, she turned around and blamed them- rather than the oil and gas industry- for actually causing the pollution in Pavillion.

The oil and gas industry calls these investigations EPA overreach. What’s really happening here is corporate overreach. A brewing culture war fought by oil and gas industry lobbyists and their allies has subdued any attempts by the Federal Government to stick up for the people caught in the fracking industry’s crosshairs. EPA’s core mission is to protect our environment. The House Majority attacks the agency for doing its job, while the EPA continues to back down to political pressure. Even with a pro-fracking Administration, EPA needs to stand firm. They understand that the problem of flammable water, induced seismicity, and health effects justifies precaution. And nothing justifies this broad EPA retreat. Staying above the political fray and maintaining some measure of objective scientific credibility demands that the EPA follow through on what they started. It is time to re-open their investigation in Parker County.


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Tagged with: pavillion, parker county, house science committee, fracking, epa, dimock

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