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New York Times: Politics Seen to Limit E.P.A. in Regulation of Natural Gas

March 4, 2011

The third in a series of in depth articles investigating the natural gas industry's pollution and waste

In the third article of the series published by the New York Times Ian Urbana reports that the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency tasked to decide which materials are hazardous and which are not , struggles to regulate the oil and gas industry.

Author of the original 1987 EPA study Carla Greathouse said “It was like the science didn’t matter.  The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed to stand in the way.”

“The E.P.A. also studied hydrofracking in 2004, when Congress considered whether the process should be fully regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act.  An early draft of the study discussed potentially dangerous levels of contamination in hydrofracking fluids and mentioned ‘possible evidence’ of contamination of an aquifer. The final version of the report excluded these points, concluding instead that hydrofracking ‘poses little or no threat to drinking water’.”

“More than a quarter century of efforts by some lawmakers and regulators to force the federal government to police the industry better have been thwarted, as E.P.A. studies have been repeatedly narrowed in scope, and important findings have been removed.”

“For example, the agency had planned to call last year for a moratorium on the gas-drilling technique known as hydrofracking in the New York City watershed, according to internal documents, but the advice was removed from the publicly released letter sent to New York.”

“Asked why the letter about hydrofracking in the New York City watershed had been revised, an agency scientist who was involved in writing it offered a one-word explanation: ‘politics’.”

“The stakes are particularly high in Pennsylvania, where gas drilling is expanding quickly, and where E.P.A. officials say drilling waste is being discharged with inadequate treatment into rivers that provide drinking water to more than 16 million people. Drillers throughout the country are watching Pennsylvania to see whether the federal agency will overrule the state’s decisions on how to dispose of drilling waste. The central question on this issue: Should drillers in Pennsylvania be allowed to dump ‘mystery liquids’ into public waterways?”

Article 1 ‘Regulation Is Lax for Water From Gas Wells

Article 2 ‘Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas Process

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