Senators to EPA: Raise bar for fracking-pollution link study

HEYENNE, Wyo. — Ten Republican senators have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to subject a draft report that theorizes a link between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater pollution in a Wyoming gas field to a more rigorous level of scientific review than currently planned.

This May 22

This May 22

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Ten Republican senators have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to subject a draft report that theorizes a link between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater pollution in a Wyoming gas field to a more rigorous level of scientific review than currently planned.

The senators include James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Inhofe is ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Murkowski the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

They sent the request involving groundwater pollution in the tiny Wyoming community of Pavillion to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a letter Friday.

“I hope that after receiving this letter, Administrator Jackson will agree to our reasonable request. If she does not, the Pavillion study can have no credibility,” Inhofe said in a news release.

While the EPA hasn’t classified the report as the senators have requested, the report will undergo the same level of review they are seeking, EPA spokesman Rich Mylott said.

“This includes ensuring the expertise, balance, conflict of interest and independence of the reviewers; transparency; and public involvement,” Mylott said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a petroleum industry practice that uses pressurized water, sand and chemicals to fracture rock inside oil and gas wells.

The draft EPA report released Dec. 8 theorized that industry activity including fracking may have caused groundwater contamination in two test wells drilled in Pavillion.

The draft report is set to undergo a 30-day peer review process following a public comment period. The public comment period had been set to run through Jan. 27; the EPA this week extended it through March 12.

Also this week, the EPA opened the process in which people can nominate experts to serve on the scientific peer review panel for the report.

The 10 senators want the report classified as a “highly influential scientific assessment” that would require more rigorous peer review standards.

The process would need to be opened to public involvement, for example, and EPA employees would not be allowed to serve on the peer review panel.

Peer reviewers also would need to be given access to key studies, data and models related to the draft report.

A scientific report may be considered “highly influential” if it could have a public or private sector impact of more than $500 million a year, according to a 2004 Office of Management and Budget memo linked from the EPA website.

A report that is “novel, controversial, or precedent-setting, or has significant interagency interest” also can require the more rigorous standard.

The senators’ request seems reasonable and in line with the position of the Wyoming state government that adequate testing, data and review is needed before the peer review process, Gov. Matt Mead said Friday.

“In the meantime, I will continue to work with the citizens outside of Pavillion trying to find a safe and reliable water supply,” he said.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, which has been representing Pavillion residents with polluted water, remains primarily concerned about their health and wellbeing, said organizer Deb Thomas.

“The economy is important, but we cannot allow our water, air and health to be destroyed for a buck,” Thomas said.

The major operator in the Pavillion gas field, Calgary-based Encana Corp., made a similar request for a “highly influential scientific assessment” in a letter to Jackson on Jan. 10.

Encana has not yet received a response, according to company spokesman Doug Hock.

Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Boozman of Arkansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi also signed the letter.

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