America / Education / Energy / Gov. Officials / Healthcare / Politics / Regulation / U.S. Domestic Policy

When Politicians Attack….

On Wednesday, the Energy and the Environmental Subcommittee convened to discuss issues related to Hydraulic Fracturing Research, and quality control of data related to the EPA analysis. EPA was initially tasked with review of the hydrofracking measure to inform both the public and private on the potential risk of these practices through a scientific, quantitative risk assessment.  This issue has spurred so much controversy simply because of the potential health impacts, as well as the potential link to problematic environmental and sociological impact. Over this time, small and large business has dictated regulations are overtly aimed to allow for government interference into private business endeavors. Therefore, this hearing was held to determine the quality of the EPA research, and therefore conjoined to attest to the process of “hysteria” brought by the EPA to popular society, in Senator Harris’ opinion.

Controversy saturated the meeting. The subcommittee wasted 55 actual minutes before the actual meeting, with a controversial social media prohibition stance. When coverage began (approximately at 10:05), the public was subject to Senator Miller attacking Senator Harris for arresting an HBO documentary filmmaker for bringing in unconfirmed social media materials in to the room. Senator Harris claimed that since rules are rules, the man had no right to be in the actual hearing, and needed to take his video recording devises to the media coverage rooms. He explained how he had turned away ABC news for the same reason earlier. Senator Miller called for a motion to suspend these rules, so “more people could hear the truth,” and then, when attacked, called for a motion to recess, which occurred for the next 45 minutes. Fifty minutes went by until Senator Miller and Senator Harris reentered, duking out the tabling of this process. Senator Miller called for social media outlets from ABC news and HBO documentaries to be allowed fundamental credentials to allow them in to the actual meeting, as this meeting would be online and shown live anyway. He also claimed that the bias of witnesses lead to a necessary situation whereby the people deserve to see the transparency of the political process.  This action led to a vote by the committee, where Senator Miller’s proposal was denied in a 7-6 vote. Finally, at approximately 5 minutes to 11, the meeting began.

Senator Harris opened with a fundamental attack on the way EPA does research, utilizing the Wyoming hydrofracking regulation of EPA as a case study for EPA research. “Regulate anything policy is the reason for the lack of transparency,” he began, “The deadline for comment passed 2 weeks ago, and the data was only posted last night.” He further attacked EPA’s credibility by not consult with US Geological Survey for data for the Research experimental procedures, and that the US EPA did follow set protocol for experimentation.

Senator Miller countered this opening statement, stating the US EPA not only followed health report, but only posted the risk assessment last night, as it extended comment period via the industry request for a risk management report.  In conjunction, the study has 30 days after comment before the Risk Assessment even has to be posted, and therefore the actual data was well before the necessary guidelines for publication. This study does not provide Risk Management until after this Risk Assessment has been considered, as this violates government protocol on Risk Management (as this was an EPA Risk Assessment, EPA cannot mandate EPA Risk Management protocol until after the Risk Assessment has been completed. Industry rejected the discloser of hydrofracking “secret chemicals” or “secret cost,” thereby making public transparent even harder. Integrity of research by the EPA was finally corroborated by stating no problems exist, but rather a controversial finding in Risk Assessment data.

Four expert witnesses were present during this time: Mr. James B. Martin, the Regional Administrator for Region 8 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Tom Doll, the State Oil & Gas Supervisor from the Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, Ms. Kathleen Sgamma, the Vice President, Government & Public Affairs from Western Energy Alliance, and Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a Professor and Dean Emeritus from the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. All three offered their keen opinion of the events occurring, but it was later pointed out that Ms. Sgamma had no qualifications to be at the hearing, as she had no technical knowledge in the field organic geochemistry, public health, or medicine, as her background was in Information Technology, and her lobbyist function made her contribution of no scientific witnesses prospective.

Mr. Martin was relentlessly questioned over the course of these hearings. He began by explaining that the reason for a Risk Assessment in the first place was based on discolored water and elevated sickness levels concerning people in Wyoming in the first place. These areas were directly impacted by the Hydrofracking industry.  In first phase of experimentation, the search for the cause of contamination was the main goal. Benzene was found in one of two wells. The only chemical found in elevated levels was Benzene, yet this was found in levels fifty-times greater than current EPA stipulations.  This level fell one-half in 6 month period from first measurement to twenty-five times the acceptable levels. He explained how all other chemical practices were ruled out, leaving hydrofracking as the most valid option; after looking at wide range of contaminants, and ruling out pesticides, nitrates from agriculture, and septic tank contamination in phase 1, the EPA was able to attribute this to fracking problems to these chemical elevations. He explained how different terrain, and therefore different geology in different areas cause for hydrofracking to impose different threat levels in different locations.   He explained how of the total wells sampled during phase 2, One-third of waters supremely elevated levels of organic compounds had not naturally found in water. 16 areas showed elevated levels of 17 sampled areas, and suggested alternative water practice. Elevated levels seen here were elevated to the point of toxic impact. Three external scientists reviewed the protocol, and then the EPA allowed for peer review comment period of the literature with an extended comment period due to industry request.

Senator Harris opened with a number of good, pointed questions to Mr. Miller. “Why are these levels listed as likely in your statement, when the scientific literature doesn’t use the term likely, as it denotes a p < 0.05.” He attacked results and diction, also asking why one well didn’t have problems and another did. He also questioned why the risk assessment was released before it was actually finished, if it did not host any number of answers. All were questions were generally answered by “that’s the protocol?” by Mr. Miller.

Dr. Goldstein was the heart of the hearing, offering real questions with viable solutions.  He was able to explain the history of hydrofracking, and how water was generally used, but what of other chemicals? Why is chemical information on hydrofracking held confidential, when doctors need to know how to treat the susceptible patients? In the BP Gulf Oil spill, the mystery chemical used was stool softener; why would a company chose hide this nearly biochemically inactive compound? With current regulations, Dr. Goldstein applied some oil companies, working well within and above health levels, and also scolding those “that shouldn’t be in business”.  He claimed that stopping hydrofracking and assessing problems before the true damage is done is an excellent reason. For instance, hydrofracking has suggested that bromides in water and earthquakes can occur when improper practices are done. Statistically significant adverse health effects could occur in the future, after he assessed the report. Overall, his statement was this: why rush the EPA on a risk management assertion (phase two of a risk protocol) when risk analysis (phase one of a risk protocol) has yet to be completed? Why subject millions of Americans to harm, when the harm has yet to be established?

Overall, Dr. Goldstein showed a voice of reason throughout this conference. We need to understand the problems before we start to manage them. The EPA, through Mr. Miller’s testimony, is currently doing the best job possible to assess problems with hydrofracking. I never thought I would state this publically, but EPA needs to be left alone by Energy Companies and Environmental Advocacy groups to publish research prematurely, in order for enough quality review, and objective peer-review to be undergone to assess the true issues. This information needs time to mature, and therefore the analysis of different terrain and different areas needs to be assessed before a national risk management of fracking areas can be truly understood.  Senator Harris did make two excellent points though. The first, EPA needs to cease releasing information early, as to scare the public prematurely on the true nature of the problems. Second, he noted that EPA should be working in conjunction with USGS as to unilaterally assess impacted areas. Hopefully, these two critiques will be incorporated into new policy soon.


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