Congress Wants to Know Why the EPA Keeps Backing Off its Own Fracking Research

The Environmental Protection Agency has a tendency to walk away from its own research suggesting that fracking pollutes drinking water. A Congressional hearing scheduled for today will look into why that is.

The hearing, called "Lessons Learned: EPA's Investigations of Hydraulic Fracturing," will be held jointly by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee's Subcommittees on Environment and Energy.

Homeowners from Parker County, Texas, the Pavillion area of Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania -- all communities featured in the HBO documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2 -- charge that local fracking operations made their drinking water flammable, but that the EPA has ignored their concerns.

Those communities were also highlighted in a story by investigative news site ProPublica, which found earlier this month that the EPA has regularly run away from any research suggesting that fracking could pose dangers.

"The EPA has walked from many of its findings from previous studies," the committee's spokesman told Unfair Park yesterday.

Yet none of the people who suspect that their drinking water has been contaminated have been invited to the hearing. Environmental group Earthworks is crying foul, saying in a press release that "the hearing will 'learn' its lessons without consulting the fracking-impacted communities EPA was investigating."

So why weren't those homeowners invited?

"The purpose of the hearing is to look at the protocols and procedures with how the EPA is going about its examination of fracking," the spokesman said.

Homeowners excluded from the hearing include Steve Lipsky, the homeowner from Parker County who famously set the water coming out of his hose on fire in Gasland. (Brantley's written about him a bunch).

"No one's ever reached out to us or even told us about" the hearing, Lipsky said yesterday.

In 2010, the EPA publicly blamed the dirty water in Parker Country on Fort Worth-based gas company Range Resources and issued an "emergency order" asking Range Resources to take "immediate action."

Yet two years later, the EPA dropped its investigation into Range Resources.

It's too early to say whether this will be a "the EPA is too nice to the gas industry" kind of hearing or a "the EPA is too hard on the gas industry and thanks to the gas industry for funding my re-election campaign" kind of hearing.

But not really. The Environment Subcommittee Chairman, Republican Representative Chris Stewart from Utah, has done plenty of cheerleading for the oil industry. Last month he accused the EPA of making "baseless attacks on oil and gas production." Meanwhile, Energy Subcommittee Chairman Representative Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican, did acknowledge last year that Pavillion had contaminated water but said there was no proof that it came from fracking.

Here's another clue: The spokesman said Gasland 2, which criticizes the federal and local governments' handling of fracking investigations, did not spark this new investigation of the EPA's investigations.

"Gasland had nothing to do with the hearing," he said. "I can't speak for who had seen Gasland or not."

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn