EARTHWORKS

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Drilling down on gas ‘fracking’

The Hill Blog | Ben Geman

April 30, 2012
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State of play: A top Environmental Protection Agency official will discuss the agency’s study of the environmental and health effects of the natural-gas development method known as “fracking” on Tuesday.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe will appear on the second day of a conference on shale gas extraction hosted by the National Academies’s Institute of Medicine.

The Institute has convened an array of public health professionals and other experts for the event, a wonky conference that’s unfolding amid political battles over fracking.

Click here for much more and a link to the webcast.

The raw politics of fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) have been evident in recent days in the furor over the comments of Al Armendariz, the EPA regional official who quit under fire over the weekend over his comparison of environmental law enforcement to crucifixion.

E2 has more on his 2010 comments here and here.

Republicans have seized on the remarks as evidence that EPA is too aggressive toward domestic energy producers, including natural-gas drillers active in the five-state region that Armendariz oversaw.

GOP lawmakers are celebrating his departure as administrator of Region 6 — which includes oil-and-gas-heavy states like Texas and Louisiana — while vowing to continue pressure on the EPA.

An official from a group that supports tough environmental and health protections calls his resignation an unfortunate sign of the times.

See below for more on the GOP and environmentalists.


NEWS BITES:

Republicans vow continued EPA probe despite official’s resignation

Capitol Hill Republicans said Monday they will continue probing EPA enforcement practices even though Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz has quit under fire.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans, before he resigned, had vowed to bring him before lawmakers to testify.

A GOP committee aide said the probe will continue, but did not indicate whether lawmakers will still seek an appearance by Armendariz.

“We're still assessing how today's news will affect our plans for a hearing on EPA's enforcement practices, but it's clear that there are serious ongoing concerns about those practices and we have responsibility to conduct oversight,” the aide said.

Several GOP committee members from Region 6, in a joint statement, said Armendariz was right to step down, but added, “this does not address our longstanding concerns with the agency’s enforcement and regulatory decision-making in Region 6, particularly within the energy sector.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), whose office unearthed the 2010 clip that got Armendariz in hot water, said the resignation “in no way solves the problem of President Obama and his EPA's crucifixion philosophy.”

Inhofe and industry officials say EPA has wrongfully linked natural-gas production through hydraulic fracturing to water contamination.

They cite actions including the agency’s recent decision to drop claims against Texas-based Range Resources over alleged contamination of water wells near Fort Worth, and the separate decision to re-test waters in a Wyoming region where EPA has alleged hydraulic fracturing had led to contamination.

“The American people deserve to know why, in at least three separate cases, EPA tarnished the reputation of companies by accusing them of water contamination,” Inhofe said.

Environmentalists lament official’s resignation

Meanwhile, some environmentalists are dismayed that Al Armendariz called it quits.

Thomas O. McGarity, an environmental law expert and board member of the Center for Progressive Reform, called the resignation of Armendariz a “significant loss for the Texas environment and for the country.”

m“Armendariz was committed to the rule of law. Unlike some state agencies, he was unwilling to show undue leniency to politically powerful industries. That he should be driven from office for employing an ill-chosen metaphor more than a year ago is another indication that environmental policymaking has become a bloodsport in this overly partisan age,” said McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas, in a statement.

Sharon Wilson, a Texas-based organizer with the group EarthWorks, similarly lamented the departure.

“When EPA Region 6 Administrator Dr. Al Armendariz resigned today, drilling-impacted communities lost a champion in the fight to improve the fracking industry’s lamentable track record of sacrificing community health and clean water for the sake of maximizing corporate profits,” she said.

Mining group pushes delay of SEC disclosure rule

Unearthed from caverns of Regulations.gov: The National Mining Association is taking a bank-shot approach in pushing to delay an upcoming Securities and Exchange Commission rule that mining and especially oil-and-gas companies aren’t especially fond of.

The mining group filed comments on a separate but related matter: the Interior Department’s plan to lead U.S. implementation of standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

EITI is a collaboration between countries, companies and nongovernmental groups aimed at ensuring that government revenues from energy and mining projects provide public benefits.

The United States is implementing EITI while the SEC is crafting rules required under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that will require SEC-listed oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments for projects in their countries.

Industry groups — especially oil-and-gas companies — are wary of the SEC rules and are pushing for various flexibilities and exemptions that human-rights groups say would gut the measure.

NMA, in their comments to Interior, say the agency should press the SEC to back off for a while, noting “it would be appropriate for [Interior] to confer with the SEC about deferring the 1504 rulemaking to allow proper alignment of the SEC regulations with EITI.”

“The EITI process should move forward prior to the SEC publishing final rules implementing section 1504,” state the comments filed earlier in April.

But groups such as Oxfam America, the Revenue Watch Institute and others say the SEC has already dragged its feet long enough in completing the disclosure rules. Oxfam, frustrated with the delay, has threatened to sue.

Click here and here for much more on the battle over the SEC rules.

Dems press for hearing on climate report

Top House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats are asking the majority Republicans to schedule a hearing on an International Energy Agency report that argues the world isn’t moving nearly aggressively enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“According to IEA, without a global effort to transition to a lower-carbon energy system, carbon emissions will double by 2050, causing global average temperatures to climb at least 6°C (10.8°F) and leading to irreversible impacts for the environment and human health,” states a letter from Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) to the panel’s GOP leadership.

Waxman is the committee’s ranking Democrat, while Rush is the top Democrat on the Energy and Power subcommittee.

“IEA recommends that the world’s leaders take immediate action to devote significant public sector resources to developing and deploying clean energy technology while creating a regulatory environment that encourages large-scale private sector investment,” the letter notes.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT ...

Here’s a quick roundup of E2’s coverage Monday and over the weekend:

- EPA official resigns over ‘crucify’ remarks
- Interior readies next round of drilling safety rules
- Gas-giant CEO declares victory over coal, slams Obama on Keystone
- Obama’s green team comes out swinging for election season


Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

Tagged with: texas, fracking, epa, dr. al

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@Macbalacano *There* are benefits. Doh.
@Macbalacano ..those who are forced to live with it. Watch this local news piece on #fracking in Texas: bit.ly/1xXqyor

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