Congressional 'Scientific Integrity' Hearing On Fracking In WY Is Quite Lacking In Scientists

After starting the morning off with a little ritual stomping on the freedom of the press by ordering the arrest of Gasland director Josh Fox, the Republican members of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee got down to the real business of the morning: stomping all over the Environmental Protection Agency.

A few months ago the EPA released its draft report on the results from a study it conducted in Pavillion, WY. The residents there worried that the drilling rigs installed to extract natural gas were contaminating their drinking water after they started to experience health problems. After the state failed to produce conclusive results, the EPA was called in and later found benzene and other petroleum compounds not found naturally in groundwater aquifers at 50x the maximum contamination level set by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

After they ruled out other possible sources such as agricultural waste, pesticides, and dysfunctional septic systems, they concluded the contaminants were in fact from the gas wells. The EPA has released the raw data and quality assurance data for commenting and peer review.

The hearing was conducted mainly to assess the validity and integrity of the scientific findings. So naturally, out of the four panelists called to give testimony, none were actually scientists (one was at least a doctor). James Martin testified on behalf of the EPA and Dr. Bernard Goldstein testified to the public health concerns. The other two were Tom Doll of Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission on behalf of the Wyoming governor, and Kathleen Sgamma of Western Energy Alliance.

During the questioning session, Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) noticed that “Vice President of Government & Public Affairs” is more of a lobbyist position, less so a scientific one,

Looking at your educational background and experience, it appears to be in information technology, computer stuff. The federal regs have a list of the scientific fields that are considered experts for purposes of hydraulic fracturing…IT is not one of them.”

The Western Energy Alliance states pretty clearly on its website that for a measly $1,000 membership (up to $50,000 to power-up to super-lobbyist) they will, “actively influence regulatory actions and legislation on behalf of your business.”

Actively influencing regulatory actions could include testimony that states things like complaining how the EPA can't possibly be a political regulatory body and conduct objective science at the same time. No matter that a lobbyist group can be involved in the political process, including subcommittee hearings, and actively comment on scientific integrity without actually having so much knowledge as to know the difference between a graduated cylinder and a volumetric flask, let alone comment on real science.

Lobbyists get away with giving Congressional testimony on how the EPA “should be more transparent” - despite the fact that the EPA has taken steps to release raw data and quality assurance records on its website - while the industry groups won't even release the chemical makeup of their fracking fluids causing the public to be rightly concerned because of unnecessary secrecy.

Providing much needed logic to the morning, Dr. Goldstein asked why there are no scientists on scientific integrity committees, and “nobody with any health background on any advisory committees concerned with health, no physicians, nurses, toxicologists, etc.”