Waxman/Markey Using Scare Rhetoric to Control Hydraulic Fracturing

On Thursday, February 18, Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) continued their relentless attack on the domestic natural gas industry. The top of their agenda was to make the case for the regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Together, Waxman and Markey sent letters to CEOs of 8 major companies requesting a list of all chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. The end result has given rise to an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“As we use this technology in more parts of the country on a much larger scale, we must ensure that we are not creating new environmental and public health problems”, said chairman Waxman.

“This investigation will help us better understand the potential risks this technology poses to drinking water supplies and the environment, and whether Congress needs to act to minimize those risks.”

Background: Hydraulic fracturing is a more than 50-year proven technology used to produce oil and natural gas. The process involves pumping a water-sand mixture into rock formations where the oil or gas is trapped. The pressure of the water creates tiny fissures in the rock. The sand serves as a propant that holds open the fissures, allowing the oil or gas to escape and flow up the well.

This process is vital to stimulating and increasing oil and natural gas production from unconventional and low permeability reservoirs. In the next 20 years, approximately 300,000 wells will be drilled and hydraulically fracked in developing the natural gas resource plays in the United States.

Who should regulate this process? Early on, Congress and this Administration sent a clear signal to the natural gas industry that it was their intention to regulate hydraulic fracturing through the EPA under the cover of the Clean Water Act. As early as June of 2009, Waxman noted, “The regulatory loophole for hydraulic fracturing puts public health at risk and isn’t justified.”

Many may not be aware, but for decades the process of hydro-fracking has been effectively regulated by the states. In mid 2009, the Groundwater Protection Council released a study on the regulation of oil and gas field activities saying,

“The regulation of oil and gas field activities, including hydraulic fracturing, is best accomplished at the state level where regional and local conditions are best understood……”

However, the Administration and bureaucrats at the EPA would have one believe that states are inadequately equipped to address these issues. In a statement of support of the Waxman investigation, the EPA declared, “There are compelling reasons to believe that hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment, which demands further study.”

Contradicting that statement, at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), the director of the EPA Drinking Water Protection Division, Steve Heare, said, “I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already.”

In the end, what is this all about? With no regard for the rights of states, it is this Administration’s goal to control the development of the domestic natural gas resources under the disguise of the EPA.

Think about what this could mean. Eighty five percent of our countries natural resources are off-limits for development. Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama utilized the Mineral Management Services (MMS) to immediately shut down any drilling off the east and west coast of the United States. If hydraulic fracturing were to be regulated by the EPA, President Obama could easily shut down the development of the Haynesville Shale, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to Louisiana’s economy.

Don Briggs is the President of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association.

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