OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA petition heralds escalation of gas 'fracking' battle

It will also call on EPA to mandate that Halliburton and other companies “provide any documentation these companies have of environmental or health problems associated with the chemicals they manufacture, process, or distribute,” according to Earthjustice.

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The petition adds another wrinkle to the battle over fracking that’s accompanying the U.S. natural-gas boom. Environmental and public health groups fear that the process will lead to widespread contamination of water supplies.

EPA is already conducting a major study of how fracking could affect groundwater supplies, and separately an Energy Department advisory group is examining ways to improve safety and environmental performance.

Fracking involves high-pressure injections of chemicals, water and sand to break apart rock formations and enable trapped gas to flow.

Industry groups contend that natural-gas opponents are vastly overstating concerns about the practice, which is decades old but is becoming increasingly widespread amid the rush to unlock what are thought to be massive amounts of gas trapped in shale rock formations.

They say it does not present a threat to groundwater and that state-level rules are adequate.

The Earthjustice petition will come a day after the Environmental Working Group issued a report that seeks to poke holes in industry claims that fracking has not contaminated groundwater.

The group released a report showing that in 1987, EPA documented a case of fracturing fluids contaminating well water in West Virginia. The New York Times has much more here.

Lee Fuller, president of the oil-and-gas industry group Energy in Depth, slammed the EWG report and the Times account.

“We’re talking about a technology that’s been deployed more than 1.2 million times in more than 25 states over the course of more than 60 years. I think it says an awful lot about fracturing’s record of safety that the best these guys could come up with after studying the issue for an entire year is a single, disputed case from 30 years ago that state regulators at the time believe had nothing to do with fracturing,” he said in a statement.

An Earthjustice spokeswoman said the petition will also call for requiring such instances of contamination be reported to EPA.


NEWS BITES

Decision looms on Shell offshore drilling: The Interior Department is facing a Thursday deadline to make a closely watched decision on Royal Dutch Shell’s plan for drilling in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s northern coast.

The decision on Shell’s exploration plan won’t be the final word on the matter — the company still needs air permits, drilling permits and various other federal approvals for its plan to begin drilling next year.

But it will nonetheless be a crucial signal of how the Obama administration will proceed with Shell’s controversial, years-long push to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast.

The decision on the exploration plan comes at a time when the White House is pledging to streamline permitting in Alaska and as Republicans are blasting what they call undue federal delays.

Shell is vowing robust safeguards alongside its plans to drill 10 wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas over the next two years, and Interior has toughened safety rules in the wake of last year's BP oil spill.

But environmental groups are fighting the efforts, alleging they present major risks to the sensitive Artic ecosystem that’s home to several fragile species such as bowhead whales and polar bears.

The president of Shell’s U.S. operations said last week that he’s growing more confident that the Obama administration will allow the oil giant to drill off Alaska’s coast in 2012.

Markey blasts Interior gray wolf plan: Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is not happy about the Interior Department’s final agreement on gray wolf populations in Wyoming.

In a letter Wednesday, Markey accuses Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of putting politics over science in the agreement.

“The backbone of the Endangered Species Act has always been its commitment to use science to protect species from extinction,” Markey said in the letter. “Science, not politics, should ensure the conservation and management of the gray wolves in Wyoming, should they be delisted.”

Under a final management plan unveiled Wednesday, a license would be required to kill wolves in one small part of the state. Wolves that are considered predators could be killed without a license in the rest of the state.

“The agreement we’ve reached with Wyoming recognizes the success of this iconic species and will ensure the long-term conservation of gray wolves,” Salazar said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Wyoming to implement this responsible management approach guided by science.”

The Obama administration agreed to delist gray wolves from the endangered species list as part of the fiscal 2011 spending deal signed into law in April by Obama.

DOE hands out light bulb award: The Energy Department awarded Philips Lighting North America with the L Prize Wednesday, an award for innovative lighting technology advancements.

Philips developed a 10-watt replacement for a traditional incandescent 60-watt bulb. 

“If every 60-watt incandescent bulb in the U.S. was replaced with the 10-watt L Prize winner, the nation would save about 35 terawatt-hours of electricity or $3.9 billion in one year and avoid 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions,” DOE said in a statement.

The announcement comes amid growing tensions between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over a 2007 law mandating that traditional incandescent bulbs become more energy efficient.

Republicans have blasted the law as an example of federal overreach, while Democrats have said it will save consumers money in the long run.


ON TAP THURSDAY:

Chamber of Commerce to unveil latest energy security index: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — through it’s Institute for 21st Century Energy — will release the latest edition of its “Index of U.S. Energy Security Risk.”

“The 2011 edition of the Index tracks significant changes in America’s energy security over the past year and includes projections to 2035,” an advisory states.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Here’s a quick roundup of Wednesday’s E2 stories:

— Murkowski: EPA rules could threaten power reliability
— Medical groups to Obama: Finalize smog rule ‘immediately’
— Federal judge dismisses enviro oil sands lawsuit
— Vitter blocks Interior nominee over Gulf drilling concerns
— Bingaman to review energy bills for Reid’s jobs agenda


NOTE TO READERS: OVERNIGHT ENERGY is taking a little hiatus while Congress goes on its August recess. We’ll be back and better than ever on Sept. 7. But don’t worry; you can still get your daily energy fix at E2 Wire.

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

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This post was updated at 11:40 a.m. on August 4