Fracking’s interstate pollution needs U.S. rules, scientist says

Air and water pollution from natural- gas and oil production using hydraulic fracturing moves across state lines, so the drilling should be regulated by the federal government, a Cornell University scientist said.

The process, known as fracking, uses chemically treated water to free gas trapped in underground shale formations. It also releases benzene and ozone into the atmosphere and can pollute surface water, Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said in prepared remarks for a hearing today by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“The pollution from unconventional oil and gas development moves across state lines in surface waters, in the air and in gas pipelines,” Howarth said. “This interstate pollution clearly calls for federal oversight of environmental and public- health regulation.”

Howarth’s testimony put him at odds with Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and committee chairman, as well as industry representatives and state regulators who support standards at the local level and say Obama administration rules are slowing energy development.

“The administration is closing public lands to exploration and drilling at an increasing pace,” Issa said in today in e- mailed comments before the hearing in Washington.

Customized Rules

Representatives of gas-producing states such as Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in prepared remarks opposed U.S. oversight and supported regulation on the state level, arguing it can be customized to the geology and weather conditions in each production area.

“The states are light-years ahead of the federal government in terms of experience and know-how about their own individual states and about the science and technique of hydraulic fracturing,” Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said.

Cornell’s Howarth wrote an April 2011 study, published in “Climatic Change Letters,” that said as much as 1.9 percent of the gas in a well escapes into the atmosphere during fracking. The contention was disputed by researcher Lawrence Cathles, also from Cornell, who said less than 0.2 percent leaked.

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management has proposed a rule that would set well-construction standards for companies fracking on federal lands and require them to disclose chemicals used in the process.

“The BLM has developed the draft with an eye toward improving public awareness and oversight without introducing complicated new procedures or delays in the process of developing oil and gas resources,” Mike Pool, the bureau’s deputy director, said in prepared remarks. “The BLM recognizes that some, but not all, states have recently taken action to address hydraulic fracturing in their own regulations.”