EPA's fracking, Keystone intervention snubs science

During its study process, the agency made a number of mistakes to compromise its findings. For example, it tested waters deeper than those reportedly affected or used for drinking; ignored preexisting and natural conditions; included contaminants that likely could have been caused by other drilling; and has yet to explain contamination in its own purified control samples. Additionally, the report noted that ecological considerations made the situation unique to the area, and that impurities were “generally below health and safety standards.” Regardless, the report was promulgated as conclusive findings, cited in over 200 articles within 24 hours of its release.

Downplaying the facts, EPA used the situation to stir concerns about the safety of natural gas development. The same is true of the agency’s involvement in last month’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Thanks to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), EPA has the power to intercede and effectively veto any project funded or permitted by the federal government. And that’s just what the agency did to Keystone XL (along with the 20,000 immediate jobs and millions in economic activity it would have generated). Though the State Department spent more than three years producing not one, but two separate environmental impact studies clearing the project of any significant risks, EPA objected to the conclusions both times.

These aren’t unique occurrences. A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that NEPA interfered with 351 privately funded infrastructure projects last year. The delay or cancellation of those cost $577 billion in investment and killed 1.9 million jobs. Additionally, the past years have seen a sharp increase in the number of regulations coming out of agencies across Washington, with EPA leading the way. States already have to comply with all federal environmental legislation. And on private land, it is the state implementation of those laws that applies, so EPA should not be directly involved if that means pre-empting state action.

Currently, states regulate hydraulic fracking by order of Congress under the Safe Drinking Water Act. If EPA’s Wyoming report is an indicator of future work from the agency on natural gas, it’s clear that EPA’s scientific mission is taking a back seat to the political desire to usurp state regulatory authority. And it’s already preparing new rules for the industry this year. Doing so would add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, increasing costs to consumers while wresting control away from local communities.

The victim will once again be jobs, investment, and America’s energy security. Obama administration rhetoric to the contrary, the clear message to the private sector is ‘take your money somewhere else unless you are willing to invest in the energy of the government’s choice.’

No one questions the importance of maintaining the highest levels of safety as we work towards our future. Our energy pursuits should not and will not come at a cost to the environment or public health. But by the same token, we can’t afford for a small, polarized section of society to hijack the wellbeing of our country based on an ideological opposition to any and all fossil fuels. Let’s leave the theatrics to the filmmakers. Our energy future is too important to gamble on the ending.

William O’Keefe, chief executive officer of the George C. Marshall Institute, is president of Solutions Consulting Inc.