Senators, green groups spar on fracking

Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), pointed to an article that indicated water pollution in Pennsylvania communities.

“There is no doubt that water has been contaminated by natural gas production,” Mall said.

But industry officials and state regulators pushed back against that claim.

“We have no reported cases” of fracking contaminating groundwater, said Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission.

Fracking is a drilling practice that injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to tap hydrocarbons buried deep underground. The method has been credited with sparking a domestic energy boom.

The exchange between Landrieu and green groups underscored the long-simmering fight regarding fracking’s impact on the environment.

Industry contends the drilling method is safe, and wants states to continue regulating the practice. Environmentalists, however, maintain it pollutes groundwater and want the federal government to take a more active role in overseeing the practice..

Mall said that while the chemicals used in fracking have not shown up in groundwater supplies, there are many communities that have documented changes to water after fracking. She said that means too little is known about fracking to let it occur unchecked.

But Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) laid into green groups on the groundwater issue.

“You can’t find any reliable scientific studies that have shown this is contamination,” he said, adding that lawmakers “have to make decisions about who we trust, who has credibility and whose advice we take.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the committee, said those lingering questions about pollution required more attention.

“My own take after listening to both sides is that not all fracking is created equal,” he said, adding, “We need to get on top of the science.