Lawmakers More Interested in Horse Crap than Science at Congressional Fracking Hearing

Fracking hearings held by the U.S. House almost always make for fine kabuki theater. Back when Rockwall's skydiving septuagenarian nonagenarian Congressman Ralph Hall ran the show, you couldn't glean much from the proceedings other than the impression that any scientific inquiry into the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing was just plain mean.

As Amy noted earlier, the subcommittee was examining EPA investigations in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Parker County, Texas, the latter of which we've covered extensively. In each case, the agency dropped its investigation. To be sure, there are legitimate questions to be asked here. And I suspect an investigation by the Inspector General may eventually tell us why the EPA abandoned its investigation in Parker County when it seemed so utterly convinced that they'd identified a legitimate case of contamination. It's just a shame that no one on the subcommittee asked actual questions.

Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, for example, first lamented that his parents were "dirt-poor" farmers from North Dakota who, unfortunately, did not have oil beneath their land. But before the days of oil, he added, the primary mode of conveyance was by horse. In fact, public health was threatened by "mountains of horse manure."

If not for oil, in other words, there would be poo everywhere. So, why are we talking about this?

Next, Representative Hall brought to the proceedings a sensibility keenly attuned to nuance. He asked the members of the panel -- which included an industry regulator from Utah, two honchos from the EPA and a researcher from Cornell -- if any of them had any evidence that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water. Dr. Brian Rahm, the Cornell researcher, spoke carefully, elucidating the difference between contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing itself, and contamination caused by, say, a surface spill of fracking fluids, or a subsurface well blowout, or an incomplete cement casing job.

But Hall wasn't interested in nuance today. He pushed until he got the answer he wanted: No, Rahm wasn't aware of any instance in which the actual process of hydraulic fracturing was proven to have contaminated drinking water -- a potentiality the EPA is, at this very moment, studying.

To that end, Dr. Fred Hauchman, EPA director of the office of science policy, said "We're aware of some recent reports and we are reviewing them ..."

Hall cut him off. He wasn't getting the right answer. "That's a yes or no question."

"I haven't reviewed the reports myself."

"So you don't know."

The title of this hearing was "Lessons Learned." Unfortunately, the only takeaway here is that a Republican-controlled science committee doesn't care for EPA's scientific inquiry into fracking.

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Brantley Hargrove