A February 26 New York Times investigative report titled “Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers” has elicited swift responses from lawmakers concerned about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water resources. The Times report juxtaposes great increases in natural gas production—and, specifically, the use of hydraulic fracturing—with what it calls a “lax” regulatory environment. The Times, after reviewing “thousands of internal documents” from the EPA and state regulators, claims that the risks for both drinking water and waste water contamination are far higher than previously thought and that state regulators are ill-equipped to cope.
On the day the story appeared, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), the Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter (PDF) to EPA Administrator Jackson questioning the Agency’s oversight of the fracking process and its water and air impacts. Subsequently, on Monday, February 28, Congressman Markey and his colleague Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), Ranking Member on the Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, wrote (PDF) to Interior Secretary Salazar requesting from the Department comprehensive data regarding hydraulic fracturing on public lands, over which the Interior Department has jurisdiction. Their letter also lauded the Department’s consideration of a policy to mandate disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids.
On March 1, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) also responded to the Times’ investigation, which focused primarily on Pennsylvania and production of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Senator Casey wrote to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and to the U.S. EPA seeking increased inspections of Pennsylvania’s drinking water resources for radioactive materials and questioning the alleged lack of adequate regulation to date.
Congressman Markey’s letter to Administrator Jackson requested a response by March 18 and the letter to Secretary Salazar from Congressmen Markey and Holt requested a response by March 25. The responses may reveal more about the administration’s plans for regulation of hydraulic fracturing. And with both officials on Capitol Hill for FY12 budget hearings, expect to see some questioning in response to the Times’ investigation.