Bloomberg News

Lawmakers Fault EPA in Fracking Hearing Delayed by Arrest

February 06, 2012

(Updates with Josh Fox arrest in second, last paragraphs.)

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released 622 documents related to its study of water contamination tied to hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, Wyoming, as Republican lawmakers criticized the findings.

The discussion over Wyoming took place in a Capitol Hill building where Josh Fox, the maker of the anti-fracking documentary “Gasland,” was arrested before the hearing began. Fox was trying to record the hearing, which the committee Republican leadership said requires prior accreditation.

The EPA documents include sampling data and raw findings from laboratories. The agency also said that results from the study, which found elevated levels of benzene and said the chemicals found were consistent with those used in fracking, shouldn’t be used to judge the safety of fracking in Pennsylvania or other states on the Marcellus Shale formation, where the geography is different.

“Our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field,” Jim Martin, the EPA administrator for the region that covers Wyoming, testified today at a subcommittee hearing of the House Science Committee.

Spoiled Water

Environmental groups say fracking, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water are forced underground to shatter rock and let gas flow, is a threat to drinking-water supplies. The EPA’s draft report on groundwater contamination in Pavillion, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northeast of Salt Lake City, was the first to link the drilling technique to spoiling water. The EPA has moved to establish a peer-review panel to examine its findings.

The EPA is waiting for information from Encana Corp., which has 123 wells in that area, on the water samples the company took at the same time as the EPA, Martin testified. Encana has criticized the EPA’s results, and said the agency didn’t take into account naturally occurring chemicals.

Representative Andy Harris of Maryland, the Republican chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee of the House Science Committee, criticized Martin and the EPA, saying that the study of groundwater contamination was an example of “politics trumping policy and advocacy trumping science.”

Arrest of Fox

“While I am pleased that the EPA posted 622 documents last night, it is unfortunate that this transparency appears to only have been compelled by the calling of a congressional oversight hearing,” Harris said.

The committee hearing was delayed about a half an hour as lawmakers debated the arrest of Fox, and what Democratic Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina said was the refusal to allow another film crew into the hearing room. The committee rules say only accredited media are permitted to film hearings, Harris said. Democrats failed in a party-line vote to delay the hearing until the filmmakers could gain accreditation.

“I am within my First-Amendment rights,” Fox yelled as he was pulled from the hearing.

“As a filmmaker and journalist I have covered hundreds of public hearings, including congressional hearings,” Fox said in a statement after his arrest. “It is my understanding that public speech is allowed to be filmed. Congress should be no exception.”

--Editors: Jon Morgan, Steve Geimann

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net


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