House Dem: EPA not doing good enough job monitoring 'fracking'

The Environmental Protection Agency is not doing a good enough job monitoring the potential public health hazards associated with a controversial natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a House Democrat said.

“So far, EPA has not caught up with the scale of the problem and in fact no one has. I think the drilling is getting ahead of itself,” said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), a fracking opponent, in a pre-taped interview that aired on the energy-policy program energyNOW! Sunday.

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Fracking -- in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to release valuable natural gas deposits – is a major drilling technique for accessing the country’s massive shale gas reserves. But environmentalists have long raised concerns that the process pollutes drinking water and harms the environment.

EPA is in the process of conducting a study on the health effects of fracking. But a recent investigative series by The New York Times found that fracking wastewater has been released into waterways without being tested for radioactive isotopes. The investigation also found that federal scientists’ concerns about fracking have been removed from key EPA documents on the issue.

Holt, citing the massive increase in fracking in recent years, said EPA is not doing a good enough job overseeing the practice and he called on Congress to give the agency more regulatory authority.

“For nearly a century, the United States of America stood out to all of the world as a country where you could turn on the tap and be assured that you had drinkable, in fact very high-standard, water,” Holt said. “We’re getting away from that.”

But Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who was also interviewed on energyNOW!, said he was wary of more federal regulation of the drilling practice.

“The developers are going to be much more facile and agile about this than our state and federal agencies,” he said.

Burgess also blasted the EPA.

“[T]here is no more nakedly political organization than EPA right now,” he said. “They’ve declared war on my state in Texas. Their word is worth nothing in my state.”

But Holt countered that lawmakers must not allow natural gas drillers to police themselves, comparing problems in the industry to those in the oil industry prior to last year’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

“Just as we saw with the Gulf drilling, counting on the companies to police themselves, even the whole industry to police itself, isn’t good enough,” Holt said. “There is a place for government regulation here. We’ve got to have it and we’ve got to have it soon.”

Holt, along with Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, sent letters to both EPA and the Interior Department this week calling for more fracking oversight.

Holt and other lawmakers have proposed legislation to regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the bill faces opposition from Republicans like Burgess, who argue that fracking should be regulated at the state level.

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