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Press Releases :: May 11, 2011

Democrats Want More Information on Hydraulic Fracturing

Washington, DC – ( Wednesday, May 11, 2011) – Today,  the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to discuss hydraulic fracturing technologies and practices used to access new unconventional natural gas-bearing formations. Democrats wanted to understand what research was required to assess the impacts of this technology on public health and the environment. The hearing focused on the congressionally-mandated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing as well as the ongoing debate regarding State versus Federal government authority to regulate the practice. 

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) acknowledged the importance and potential of natural gas, “[f]ossil fuels power our manufacturing base, our transportation sector, our agricultural sector, and more…we will rely on these resources and technologies to achieve our energy, economic, national security, and, in some cases, our environmental objectives.” However, she was quick to underscore her concern by highlighting the impacts of relying on fossil fuels to achieve these goals “we also know that fossil fuels carry significant environmental risks.  In this I am speaking of the oceans we fish, the soil we farm, the air we breathe, and the water we drink – all of which have real economic value.  Nobody gets rich from clean air and water, but everybody benefits, and nobody should have the right to take those away.”

She further reminded the Committee that the industry is primarily concerned with profit when developing new resources, “let us not be fooled into believing that the drilling industry alone, out of sheer benevolence, will implement cleaner and potentially more costly technologies and practices.  It has never worked that way, and likely never will.  Without regulations to level the playing field, there are few incentives to improve environmental performance.”

Concerned by the assertions of some Members and witnesses that hydraulic fracturing has a long safety record, Ranking Member Johnson sought to underscore the new risks of the methods to produce previously-unrecoverable natural gas locked in shale rock formations, “Contrary to industry’s claims that it has been doing this safely for 60 years, this is a new suite of technologies that may have very different environmental impacts in different geologies and regions, and that risk is compounded by the scale of operations we see today.”

Reflecting the concerns expressed across the country, Committee Democrats pressed the panel for more information on additional research that was needed to make better decisions about hydraulic fracturing. Regarding the study that EPA is carrying out at the direction of Congress, Ranking Member Johnson said, “The EPA study is an opportunity to gain more knowledge about hydraulic fracturing, and the opportunity should not be wasted by narrowing the scope so much that we keep ourselves ignorant to the technology’s impacts.”

Stressing her concern that the public and policymakers do not have enough information to make decisions on hydraulic fracturing, Ranking Member Johnson said, “we simply do not have enough data yet to say, nor will we if industry refuses to disclose the chemicals it uses, and if EPA cannot do its job of determining the risks.”

Despite her questions about the safety of current hydraulic fracturing technologies, she focused on the responsibility of the Committee by stating, “I want to focus on what I believe is a guiding principle of this Committee, which is that technologies should evolve, and, in the case of drilling for unconventional oil and natural gas, become more efficient, safe, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable… If there are problems with hydraulic fracturing, let’s acknowledge it and then work to advanced technologies to solve them.”

Stating that caution concerning hydraulic fracturing was warranted, she reminded the Committee of the hazards seen elsewhere in the energy industry.  She said, “We have seen recently how flawed industry practices, inadequate training and technologies, poorly designed systems, shortsighted risk assessments, lax governmental oversight, and sheer bad luck can have tragic and unimaginable consequences.  Major disasters such as Fukushima and the Deepwater Horizon remind us of the real risk of catastrophic accidents.  But, they also overshadow the frequency of smaller safety incidents and spills, and the pollution that escapes regulators’ attention every day.  We do not have to accept this as the cost of our energy addiction.”
 


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