U.S. House members demand answers from EPA on fracking study panel

Recently, I came across an item on Gas Business Briefing (gsbb.com), which posted information about an Oct. 16 letter that three Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lisa Jackson.

The letter expressed concerns about the selection of panel members for the Science Advisory Board (SAB) that will review the EPA’s study on “Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources” — saying that the panel lacked those with oil and gas industry experience. One of the examples given in the Committee members’ letter outlined objections about panel member Dr. Jerald Schnoor, who was a lead reviewer in the previous SAB review of The Draft Study Plan. The letter complained that Dr. Schnoor had published an August 2010 article entitled “Regulate, Baby, Regulate,” in which “he alleges that hydraulic fracturing lacks ‘adequate oversight and regulations’ and characterizes the relationship between government regulators and the oil and gas industry as ‘cozy and sometimes corrupt,’” the letter states.

The committee requested a formal written response from the EPA by Nov. 1 to the following questions:

  1. What steps will EPA take to ensure that persons with technical expertise and operational experience in hydraulic fracturing will be included in the 2012 ad hoc panel?
  2. Will EPA comply with the guidance noted above [within the letter] to ensure a balanced panel that includes a diversity of scientific perspectives? Will this include industry perspectives?
  3. What steps will EPA take to ensure that adequate state, local and tribal expertise is represented on the panel? What steps will be taken to ensure that energy-producing and oil-and-gas states with decades of relevant technical and regulatory expertise will represented on the panel?
  4. Does EPA plan to implement this recommendation [regarding stakeholders] from the previous SAB review?
  5. Does EPA plan to publicly accept or reject the recommendations that come from the upcoming ad hoc panel review?
  6. Does EPA agree with the Battelle [Memorial Institute} recommendation [in a “Review of EPA Hydraulic Study Plan”] that greater industry involvement would have made the study more robust?
  7. What steps will EPA take to ensure that reviewers have not previously taken sides on the issues to be considered by the ad hoc and chartered SAB in this review?
  8. What is EPA’s current policy and determining criteria for evaluating whether or not potential reviewers have previously taken sides?

There are eight more questions within the letter, which can be viewed here.

The public nomination process for the panel selection closed on Sept. 11, and House Committee members sent the letter more than a month after that, with the request to “strongly encourage EPA to consider balance, expertise, independence and public participation requirements.” A preliminary report from the EPA study is expected before the end of the year, with a final report due out in 2014.