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EPA looks to regulate ‘potential’ water threats from fracking

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The Environmental Protection Agency inspector general’s office is looking to see if current hydraulic fracturing regulations are sufficient to protect threats to U.S. water supplies, despite a lack of evidence linking the drilling technique to water contamination.

The inspector general’s office was intended to be independent of political influence in order to help Congress eliminate waste, fraud and abuse at the agency. This EPA’s fracking investigation has raised suspicions in Congress that politics could be a motivating factor..

“I have serious doubts that this review was anything but politically motivated, If they can’t leave the agency’s bias at the door then there is no reason for them  to be conducting this investigation,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement.

“Unfortunately, they have completely missed the EPA’s three failed attempts to demonize hydraulic fracturing — which happens to be one of the brightest spots in our otherwise slumping economy,” Vitter added.

The EPA’s inspector general issued a memorandum last week saying the office would be looking into ways the agency and states could better regulate fracking based on its potential impacts on water supplies. But the agency watchdog neglected to mention that the agency has failed on three separate occasions to link fracking to water contamination.

The Energy Department has also looked into fracking’s potential to harm water supplies and discovered that the drilling technique was safe, finding no evidence that the drilling practice had contaminated groundwater supplies.

The EPA inspector general’s office will evaluate how the agency and states “have used their existing authorities to regulate hydraulic fracturing impacts to water resources” and see “what regulatory authority is available to the EPA and states” to deal with potential threats to water supplies.

“In addition, we will contact environmental groups, industry groups, and gas and oil producers,” the inspector general said. “The project will be conducted using applicable generally accepted government auditing standards.”

Environmental groups have overwhelmingly opposed fracking — which involves injecting sand, water and chemical mixtures into underground shale formations to extract oil and gas. Activists say that fracking pollutes groundwater supplies, though such allegations have little to no evidence behind them. (RELATED: Energy secretary: Fracking can be done safely)

The Obama administration is currently crafting regulations for fracking on federal lands. But environmentalists say that these regulations don’t go far enough.

“President Obama is in danger of leaving a toxic legacy if his administration doesn’t get its facts straight on fracking,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The EPA needs to take responsibility for the mess caused by fracking, and once and for all, assess the risks of fracking to the public.”

Fracking has been traditionally regulated by the states. Such drilling activity has been occurring in states like California for at least 60 years, and the oil and gas industry argues that states are best equipped to regulate the diverse landscapes that drilling takes place on.

“A new layer of duplicative regulations would raise costs and create needless delays for domestic energy production, threatening jobs and revenues that are driving U.S. growth,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

“The [Bureau of Land Management] has taken steps to improve its proposal from last year, and it wisely follows the lead of states that have already adopted FracFocus to improve transparency, but there is still no clear benefit to imposing additional federal rules on top of state environmental stewardship,” Milito added.

Obama’s EPA has also issued new guidance on fracking with diesel, which requires the agency’s approval. Some states already heavily regulate the use of diesel in fracking operations or even ban the practice altogether. The EPA is prevented, however, by federal law from regulating injection fluids or propping agents used in fracking other than diesel.

“This appears to be a solution in search of a problem,” said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations at the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “Based on actual industry practices, diesel fuel use has already been effectively phased out of hydraulic fracturing operations. But by perpetuating this regulatory process, the rule threatens the primacy of states’ underground injection control programs.”

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