Democrats Call for More Research and Transparency into Natural Gas Drilling Impacts on Public Health

Feb 1, 2012

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing entitled, “Fractured Science – Examining EPA’s Approach to Ground Water Research: The Pavillion Analysis.”  The stated purpose of the hearing was to examine the methodology, protocols, and guidelines used by EPA in conducting the Pavillion Study.

Before the hearing began, camera crews who sought to cover the hearing were prevented from filming, including filmmaker Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of Gasland, who was subsequently arrested. As the hearing was gaveled in, Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) requested a vote to allow the filmmaker and others to record the hearing.  The motion was defeated by a party-line vote of 7-6.

Following the hearing, Mr. Miller said, “We constantly hear from the Majority about the need for more transparency; in fact, that was one of the issues of this hearing.  However, when there was an opportunity to have the hearing open and available for recording for everyone, the Republicans on this Subcommittee voted it down.”

The Pavillion study is a draft report summarizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) findings of its groundwater investigation in Pavillion, Wyoming. EPA initiated this inquiry three years ago in response to complaints made by private well-owners in the area regarding taste and odor problems in their well water.  The report was released on December 8, 2011. In accordance with EPA’s standard procedure, the report is now available for public comment and will be subject to peer-review by independent scientists.  The Pavillion study is the first EPA study to draw a connection between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”.

Mr. Miller said in his opening statement, “Although the industry and their political allies dismiss concerns about fracking as uninformed hysteria, their refusal to provide basic information about their operations and their efforts to hinder independent scientific research like the Pavillion study cannot be reassuring to citizens living near fracking operations… The question is not whether we are ‘pro-drilling’ or ‘anti-drilling.’ The question is whether we will drill with our eyes open. The public wants to know if fracking is safe, and they’re entitled to know. But the industry and their political allies just say, in effect, ‘move along, there’s nothing to see here.’”

Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a physician and the former Assistant Administrator for Research and Development of EPA under President Ronald Reagan testified that the public is concerned about the potential impacts of shale gas development, that there is genuine cause for this concern, and that the current lack of support for research related to gas drilling is shortsighted and counterproductive.  He said, “It is in the nation’s and in industry’s best interests to maximize the yield of natural gas while minimizing the short-term and long-term environmental and public health costs, and that to do so we must seriously address the possibility of adverse public health impacts.  I believe that we are ignoring many of the lessons about how to approach potential environmental health issues that we have so painfully learned over the last forty years.”

Mr. Miller closed his opening statement, “The integrity of scientific research at EPA is properly the subject of this subcommittee’s interest, although none of the Republican witnesses today appear to satisfy the requirements of disinterested expertise to serve as peer reviewers. With no disinterested scientists as witnesses, a reasonable question is whether this hearing is really just a big wink and nod to the industry that the Majority is on their side no matter what.”