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Obama Administration: No Documented Cases of Hydraulic Fracturing Contamination
December 8, 2009

Contact:

Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-9797

David Lungren David_Lungren@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-5642

Obama Administration: No Documented Cases of Hydraulic Fracturing Contamination

Washington, D.C. - During today's Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on "Federal Drinking Water Programs," Senator Inhofe asked officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) if they were aware of any documented cases of hydraulic fracturing contamination. None of the three witnesses could provide a single example. Testifying before the EPW Committee today was Peter Silva, Assistant Administrator for Water, Environmental Protection Agency, Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Environmental Protection Agency, and Matthew Larsen, Associate Director for Water, U.S. Geological Survey.

"The Obama Administration has it right: there are no documented cases of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracturing," Senator Inhofe said. "Hydraulic fracturing is a safe production technique that is thoroughly regulated by the states. We have a 60 year history to prove it.

"With the unemployment rate at 10 percent, we need to put people back to work. Imposing more bureaucracy and regulation will destroy jobs and stifle opportunities for those looking to find a job. The oil and gas industry employs 6 million people in the U.S. I want to see that number go up, not down."

Full Transcript of Exchange

Senator Inhofe: I'm anxious to get to this second panel, Madame Chairman. I can't remain silent after Senator Lautenberg's statement about hydraulic fracturing. I have something to say about that, but first, I want to ask all three of you and response: Do any one of you know of one case of ground water contamination that has resulted from hydraulic fracturing? Start with you, Mr. Silva.

Peter Silva: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Senator Inhofe: Ms. Giles?

Cynthia Giles: I understand there's some anecdotal evidence, but I don't know that it's been firmly established.

Senator Inhofe: So the answer is no, you don't know of it.

Cynthia Giles nods.

Senator Inhofe: Alright, Mr. Larsen?

Matthew Larsen: I'll have to respond in writing, I don't, I'm not aware of all of our studies on that topic.

Senator Inhofe: Well, but you've already answered. You're not aware. That's the question I asked you. Here's the problem we have. Senator Lautenberg referred to this as something that's new. This isn't new. It's been around over fifty years. And, we do approximately thirty-five thousand wells a year - nearly a million wells, without one documented case of groundwater contamination. I'm concerned about this, because I know for a fact that if you took away the ability, as all other countries do, of hydraulic fracturing, we're going to become much more dependent upon other countries for our ability to produce oil. Now, I want to repeat that one more time that there has never been a documented case in almost a million uses of that technology. The EPA did an extensive study of this back, prior to, it lasted a long period of time, they concluded in 2004 that it does not warrant any further study. And, I want to submit for the record a document that tells the history of hydraulic fracturing. And, I will reserve time in case I need it, I hope I don't.

Background

Hydraulic fracturing is a key production method that has aided in U.S. production of oil and gas from more than one million wells and it continues to aid in the production from over 35,000 wells per year. This 60 year old technique has been responsible for the production of 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. The National Petroleum Council reports that 60% to 80% of all wells in the next ten years will require fracturing to remain productive and profitable.

In 1995, as EPA Administrator, Carol Browner wrote in response to litigation that federal regulation is not necessary for hydraulic fracturing. She said that the practice was closely regulated by the states and that, "EPA is not legally required to regulate hydraulic fracturing." Most importantly, she further wrote that there was "no evidence that hydraulic fracturing resulted in any drinking water contamination" in the litigation involved.

Released in a 2004 report, EPA conducted a review of all 11 major coal basins across the country and of 200 peer-reviewed publications. It reviewed 105 comments in the Federal Register. It requested information from 500 local and county agencies in states where CBM production occurred. It interviewed 50 local and state government agencies, industry representatives, and 40 citizens groups which alleged drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. After completing its 4 year study, EPA concluded that "the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into CBM wells poses little or no threat to underground sources of drinking water and does not justify additional study at this time." EPA had planned to study contamination in a two phase study. Following these findings EPA, did not even initiate the second phase of study.

The American Petroleum Institute recently determined that through duplicative federal regulations, the number of new oil and natural gas wells drilled would drop by 20% in the next five years. Should hydraulic fracturing be eliminated, new oil and gas wells would drop by 79%, resulting in 45% less domestic natural gas production and 17% less domestic oil production.

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