Gas official attempts to convince Congress of fracking safety

Pamela Engel

Reporter | Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
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WASHINGTON – An Ohio oil and gas official appeared before a congressional subcommittee today to convince lawmakers of hydraulic fracturing’s safety and economic benefits.

The Environmental Protection Agency might implement additional federal regulations for disposing wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process that uses chemically enhanced water to extract natural gas from rock formations. Traditionally, that responsibility has been left up to the states.

“The states are the best and most efficient point to regulate the industry’s waste systems,” Tom Stewart, executive vice president for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, testified. “The process provides for a system of constant improvement and an opportunity to share and promote new or unique regulatory concepts among the states, while maintaining the flexibility needed to meet individual states’ needs.”

The EPA does regulate fracking to some extent, but it is considering creating additional national standards specific to wastewater discharges. The agency’s final report on fracking is scheduled for release in 2014.

“EPA efforts regarding hydro fracking … can hardly be seen as costing to business or job creation,” Rep. Tom Bishop, D-N.Y., said. “Determining whether or not hydraulic fracking and wastewater disposal has any potential negative impact on public health or the environment should not be cause for alarm.”

Currently, states must follow the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act standards when disposing of wastewater.

Those critical of fracking say the chemicals used in the water that blasts apart the rock could contaminate drinking water. Stewart said there have been no documented cases of fracking chemicals contaminating drinking water.

“Even though no comprehensive set of federal standards exists at this time for the disposal of wastewater discharged from natural gas extraction activities, states have been picking up the slack to make sure such activities are conducted safely,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. “I am concerned that … these new effluent guidelines will be so needlessly restrictive that the gas extraction operations in Ohio and many other states, and the resulting economic benefits they provide to the states, will suffer.”

Stewart also spoke about the potential economic benefits of fracking in Ohio. A study commissioned by the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, which is funded by the oil and gas industry, found that developing Utica shale, a type of rock formation, could create or support 204,520 jobs and $12 billion in wages by 2015.

The report said that, as of last year, the natural gas and oil industry supported 4,490 direct jobs and is part of a total of 12,950 jobs.

Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio announced Tuesday a delay in leasing more than 3,000 acres of land that could be used for fracking. Stewart said in an interview that he sees no reason shale cannot be developed in this region with minimal impact on the area.

“I imagine what is happening is that the forest service has an obligation to perform an environmental assessment before they lease,” Stewart said.

engelp@shns.com

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