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Fracking Panel Ducks Substance, Focuses on Messaging

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Washington, DC – In a draft report on the increasingly controversial practice of shale gas drilling, the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board Subcommittee sidestepped the crucial question of whether hydraulic fracturing technology should remain exempt from most federal environmental regulation.

The panel, charged by Secretary Steven Chu with advising him on the safety concerns around the process known as “fracking,” called in general terms for more regulation of the rapidly expanding industry but did not address the seven exemptions granted by Congress from most of the nation’s major environmental laws. President Obama has said that he supports expansion of natural gas drilling as a relatively clean domestic energy source despite a rising tide of complaints about air and water pollution and community disruption caused by drilling activity across the country.

In calling for more transparency and better communication concerning the impact of fracking and horizontal drilling, which has allowed access to vast stores of gas locked in mile-deep shale and other rock formations, the 41-page report casts the environmental concerns over fracking as largely a public relations problem.

In addition to its failure to address fracking’s unique freedom to operate free of federal laws that protect air and water quality and the safety of drinking water, the panel had nothing to say about the industry’s common practice of suppressing information about contamination incidents by requiring families seeking compensation or delivery of safe water to sign confidentiality agreements. A year-long investigation by Environmental Working Group this month revealed the existence of a long-forgotten federal report that documented cases of well water contamination and highlighted EPA investigators’ complaints that confidentiality agreements impeded their work. Homeowners whose well water has been contaminated have agreed not to discuss their situation publicly in return for getting the drilling company to provide them with clean water.

“We will not see necessary changes in chemical transparency, air or water quality so long as the industry is able to keep playing by its own rules,” said EWG Chief of Staff and General Counsel Heather B. White. “Continuing to avoid federal environmental laws and allowing hush money to stand in the way of public understanding and thorough scientific investigation ultimately brings us nowhere.”

The message to voters in key swing states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado, and North Carolina, appears to be that the Administration is not as concerned with the real problems their communities face as a result of fracking as it is with maintaining the industry’s growth and improving its ineffective communication.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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