The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent countless taxpayer dollars and man-hours over the last few years investigating the environmental threats posed by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in many regions across the United States. And when their draft reports showed that the practice was poisoning water supplies, the gas industry stepped in and immediately put a halt to the studies.
According to a new report by ProPublica, the EPA has halted several investigations into the safety of fracking operations in places like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.
Most recently, the EPA halted a study on the environmental impact of fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming. The draft report of the study had been finished, but the gas industry intervened and questioned the validity of the study, so the EPA decided to back off and hand over the task of completing the study to the state of Wyoming. The state will finish the investigation, but the funding will come from the natural gas drilling company EnCana. Incidentally, EnCana is responsible for the pollution that the EPA was testing.
And it wasn’t that the EPA didn’t find anything that citizens should be concerned about; quite the opposite is true. In spite of halting the study, the agency still told residents that they should not drink the water coming out of their taps, nor should they use it to bathe because of the chemicals that were found in the tap water.
But it gets even worse, as ProPublica points out:
Over the past 15 months, the EPA has:
- Closed an investigation into groundwater pollution in Dimock, Pa., saying the level of contamination was below federal safety triggers.
- Abandoned its claim that a driller in Parker County, Texas, was responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ faucets, even though a geologist hired by the agency confirmed this finding.
- Sharply revised downward a 2010 estimate showing that leaking gas from wells and pipelines was contributing to climate change, crediting better pollution controls by the drilling industry even as other reports indicate the leaks may be larger than previously thought.
- Failed to enforce a statutory ban on using diesel fuel in fracking.
One of the main obstacles the EPA was forced to overcome in order to even conduct the cursory investigations came from within the government itself, in the form of noted climate change skeptic and the dirty energy industry’s favorite senator: James Inhofe.
Inhofe was relentless in his quest to derail the EPA’s investigations, often forcing them to send reports about every dollar spent on their process, wasting the agency's time and resources. In the end, Inhofe’s harassment of the agency played a major role in helping to dismantle their important work.
As Steve Horn has been pointing out for months, the EPA has consistently bowed to outside pressure by halting studies in other areas, including a study in Weatherford, Texas, which was halted thanks to intervention, in part, by former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell.
Recently, I served as the guest host for Ring of Fire on the Free Speech TV network, where I interviewed DeSmogBlog executive director Brendan DeMelle and research fellow Steve Horn about the industry and political pressure that was dismantling the EPA’s activities. The interview can be viewed below:
The EPA is only one target in the ongoing assault on government intervention with fracking. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives recently drafted legislation that would prevent the Department of Interior from issuing standards for natural gas companies who wish to drill on public lands. This particular legislation, which, according to The Hill has no real chance of being signed into law, would prohibit any federal standards for states that have already set their own natural gas drilling standards for federal lands.
While the Republicans would likely argue that this legislation is necessary on the grounds that state laws and standards are sufficient, and that each state is constitutionally allowed to implement their own laws, the fact that these are federal public lands means that the federal government has ownership, and therefore the right to enact the standards.
It has become painfully clear that both parties have been completely captured by the dirty energy industry. The only hope is that newly minted EPA administrator Gina McCarthy will have the guts to stand with the American public and prevent the industry from interfering with future investigations.