NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Can the Environmental Protection Agency Fairly Regulate the Shale Gas Revolution?

May 7, 2012

Hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") was commonly used with almost no controversy for decades to extract deep reserves of oil and gas.  Now, however, it is a line in the sand, dividing stalwarts from both parties, says Jon Entine, a senior fellow at STATS and the Center for Health & Risk Communication at George Mason University.

Hard-edged Democrats claim fracking is at best a dangerous unknown with limited economic benefits, and at worst an environmental and health disaster in the making perpetrated by energy plutocrats.  In contrast, Republicans portray shale gas as a growth engine and a way to lower energy costs.

Given this dynamic, and given that Democrats currently control the White House, it should come as no surprise that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose appointed regulators are ostensibly non-partisan, has established itself as a shamelessly biased opponent of shale energy.

  • Last December in Pavilion, Wyoming, the EPA stirred up an international anti-fracking storm when it announced it had found a direct link between fracking and ground­water contamination -- the EPA would backtrack only months later, conceding it had used poor evaluative techniques.
  • Similarly, in February of this year the EPA targeted Cabot & Gas Oil for contaminating groundwater in Dimock, Pennsylvania, and called for "immediate action," only to fallback a month later by confirming that the water was safe.
  • Finally, the EPA demonized Range Resources in Parker County, Texas, with similar charges, even going so far as to criticize state officials (mostly Republican) for poor oversight, only to admit months later that other gas sources might be at fault for water contamination.

This string of incidents underlines the partisan style of the agency as a whole that rushes to accusations and forms data to fit its preconceived conclusions.

Source: Jon Entine, "Can the EPA Fairly Regulate the Shale Gas Revolution?" American Enterprise Institute, April 30, 2012.

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