Energy in Depth Issue Alert: Rep. Hinchey, EPA Administrator Jackson, HF, SDWA
On Tuesday, May 19, the office of U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) issued a press release subsequent to a hearing of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee suggesting the congressman had gotten EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to “acknowledge” the need for her agency “to reexamine the Bush administration’s misguided views on the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.”
In 2005, Congress passed (with the vote of then-Sen. Barack Obama) the Energy Policy Act, a key provision of which sought to clarify Congress’s historical intent on whether the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 was ever designed to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
The answer was no, and in this case, history proved an effective guide: When SDWA was passed in 1974, hydraulic fracturing had already been in use for 25 years. Hydraulic fracturing was never considered for inclusion under SDWA jurisdiction at the time. The Act was amended in 1986, and then again in 1996. At no point in the process was the concept of SDWA regulation over fracturing ever considered a necessity – or even a possibility.
Hydraulic fracturing is a commonly used, and increasingly critical, technology for finding and developing oil and gas resources trapped below rock that would otherwise be too deep, too hard and too expensive to access. The technique has been deployed more than a million times over the past 60 years, delivering to the American people more than 600 trillion cubic feet of American natural gas and seven billions barrels of American oil.
In 2008, a report issued by professors from Pennsylvania and New York suggested that the Marcellus Shale formation, a unit of sedimentary rock spread across much of the Appalachian Basin, could contain 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – enough to heat more than 60 million homes for 160 years. Without hydraulic fracturing, these resources cannot be feasibly or economically produced.
Those who oppose the responsible development of American energy have seized on hydraulic fracturing as a means of blocking reasonable access to, and production of, domestic energy resources. The centerpiece of their campaign appears to be focused on blaming hydraulic fracturing for everything from exploding houses in Ohio, to flammable water in Colorado, to hard water deposits in New York (each of these accusations, and others, are debunked here).
Despite these claims, hydraulic fracturing continues to be aggressively regulated by the states, and has compiled an unparalleled record of safety over the 60 years since its first commercial use.
More recently, legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Hinchey has sought to destroy this existing state-federal regulatory partnership in favor of an EPA-only approach. Were this and other restrictive regulatory measures to come to pass, a recent analysis showed it could result in the forced closure of more than half of America’s oil wells, a third of its gas wells, cost the federal government $4 billion in lost revenue, slash American oil production by 183,000 barrels per day, and natural gas by 245 billion cubic feet per year.
EPA on Record
In 1995, then-EPA administrator Carol Browner (currently the president’s energy and environment czar) wrote that that her agency saw “no evidence” that hydraulic fracturing “has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water (USDW).”
“Moreover,” she added, “given the horizontal and vertical distance between the drinking water well and the closest gas production wells, the possibility of contamination or endangerment of USDWs in the area is extremely remote.”
In 2004, EPA issued a landmark report examining the question of safety as it relates to hydraulic fracturing, finding “the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids” poses “minimal threat to USDWs.” In arriving at that conclusion, EPA stated it had “reviewed more than 200 peer-reviewed publications, other research, and public comments.”
States on Record
Recognizing that hydraulic fracturing is both a safe technology and a key driver of local economic development, states such as Alabama, Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas have recently taken up or passed resolutions informing Congress and EPA that the current regulatory relationship is working well, and that efforts to disrupt it could produce serious and long-term consequences.
In New Mexico, former U.S. Energy Secretary and current Governor Bill Richardson introduced a plan in February aimed at easing unnecessary compliance burdens, recognizing that thousands of jobs and millions in potential revenue were tied to safe, responsible, state-regulated natural gas and oil production.
Statement from Lee Fuller, policy director for Energy In Depth
“Those familiar with the history surrounding the passage and amendment of the Safe Drinking Water Act understand what this measure was intended to do, and what it clearly was not. Unfortunately, instead of taking on the issue of responsible energy development candidly and on its merits, opponents of natural resource development have decided to target the essential tools needed to safely and efficiently bring this energy to market.”