By Julian Hattem - 04/17/13 04:51 PM EDT
"The increased production on federal lands is all in spite of the fact that the oil and gas industry continues to hold the drilling rights to more than 25 million acres of federal land onshore that are not producing oil or gas," said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "This is an area the size of Kentucky that companies are just warehousing.
State officials countered those claims, saying that the energy industry wanted to move quickly to develop resources.
"It defies the laws of economics that oil companies would sit on federal leases when diesel is at $4.00 and gas is at $3.50," countered Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell (R), one of the witnesses on the panel. "They have every economic incentive to develop oil and gas."
The natural-gas development method hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as "fracking," emerged as a point of contention at the hearing, as several Democrats on the panel pushed for increased federal oversight of the process, which some claim has negative effects on drinking water. The method involves injecting water, chemicals and sand into rock formations to open seams for natural gas.
The White House is reviewing a new rule on the process, and is expected to release it soon.
"We've all seen the YouTube video of faucets with flames coming out of them. We know there have been different problems in different areas about fracking," said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), referring to videos purporting to show tap water catch on fire due to chemicals in the water supply left by the process.
Those cases were discounted by Republicans on the panel. "In every one of those cases it did not result from hydraulic fracturing," claimed Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
In 2011, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson said she was “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing.”
Rep. Hastings warned the administration’s upcoming fracking rule "would be another layer of red tape and bureaucracy since states have been successfully regulating fracturing for decades."
This month, the Congressional Research Service released a study showing that while overall oil and gas production has increased in the United States since 2007, it has declined on federal lands.
--This report was updated at 1:47 p.m.