Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Hearing on “Hydraulic Fracturing of Shale Beds: Ensuring Regulatory Approaches that Will Help Protect Jobs and Domestic Energy Production”

Date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 Time: 07:00 AM

There was no video broadcast for this event.


Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Hearing on “Hydraulic Fracturing of Shale Beds: Ensuring Regulatory Approaches that Will Help Protect Jobs and Domestic Energy Production”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011; 10:00 AM

2167 Rayburn House Office Building



Opening Statement of
The Honorable Timothy H. Bishop, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Hearing on Issues Associated with Hydraulic Fracturing, Water Quality,
and Regulations under the Clean Water Act
November 16, 2011

Mr. Chairman, I welcome this hearing that highlights an issue of significant importance to my home state of New York, as well as many other states throughout the nation.

In my view, the growing national debate on hydraulic fracturing is less about whether this nation will develop its domestic natural gas resources, and is more about how natural gas production should be developed and regulated to protect American jobs, public health and the environment.

In my own state of New York, much of the concern about “hydro-fracking” or “fracking” has focused on how to ensure that the largely-unknown cocktail of chemicals and pollutants that are injected into the ground during the drilling process, do not contaminate local drinking water supplies and endanger public health or the environment.  Where the drinking water sources of New York communities are potentially at risk, the State has taken prudent and necessary steps to protect them.

Regarding the focus of today’s hearing, I am not entirely sure what the Majority has in mind.  From my perspective, today’s hearing should focus on the important questions of what to do with the chemicals and other fracking by-products once they cease to be of value for natural gas production and need to be disposed of.  We will hear testimony about the most common methods of handling drilling wastes, such as recycling, underground injection, or disposal at treatment plants.

However, if the intended focus of today’s hearing is the potential impacts of EPA regulations on jobs or domestic energy production, then I hope someone can show me which Clean Water Act regulations we’re worried about.. .. While oil and gas producers have long been prohibited from directly discharging their wastewater to water of the U.S., that sensible restriction clearly has not impacted shale gas production which, according to the Energy Information Administration, has increased by four hundred percent over the past three years.  So what is the issue? It is true the EPA has announced it will consider whether a national pretreatment standard for shale gas wastewaters should be established, but that effort has just begun and no regulation will be proposed before 2014, if EPA decides a pretreatment standard is needed at all.

I hope we can all agree that, so far, EPA’s fact finding efforts regarding hydro-fracking wastewater disposal can hardly be seen as caustic to business or job creation.  Determining whether or not hydraulic fracturing wastewater disposal has any potential negative impacts on public health or the environment should not be a cause for alarm.  In fact, as policymakers we should want to know all we can about the potential impacts hydro-fracking may have on our communities, our constituents, and our water quality.

Today, most treatment plants are ill-equipped to handle the chemicals and other pollutants that may be common to hydro-fracking wastewater.  Without additional efforts, these chemicals and pollutants may pass through treatment facilities and into the surrounding environment, raising significant public health and environmental concerns.

This should give us all pause.

These concerns were highlighted earlier this year when the New York Times ran a front page article on how the “highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium” in drilling wastes are typically NOT removed by sewage treatment plants.  According to the article, these chemicals and pollutants typically pass through the sewage treatment plant, untreated, and wind up being discharged back into local receiving waters where they can contaminate downstream drinking water sources and the environment.

In fact, the former-Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, John Quigley, was quoted in this article as saying, “[We’re] producing massive amounts of toxic wastewater with salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials, and it’s not clear we have a plan for properly handling this waste.”

I, for one, believe we should dig deeper into the questions raised by the EPA, sewage treatment plant owners, and others about the capability of sewage treatment plants to adequately handle fracking wastes.

For example, how can systems designed with technologies to treat domestic sewage and nutrients be expected to safely remove industrial chemicals and naturally occurring radioactive materials from the wastewater stream?

More importantly, how can we expect sewage treatment plant owners to safely operate their systems when, many times, they do not even know the chemicals and other pollutants that are contained in the drilling wastes they are being asked to treat?

More specific to the topic of today’s hearing, would the development of Clean Water Act guidelines for discharges associated with the natural gas industry sector provide a cost-effective, nationally-recognized standard for the safe disposal of chemicals associated with natural gas production, in the same way as other guidelines for discharges from other industry sectors?

Finally, I am having trouble keeping up with what role the Majority intends for State regulatory agencies under the Clean Water Act.  As I have stated numerous times, the successes of the Clean Water Act can be traced to a robust Federal-State partnership in addressing water quality impairments.  However, in bill after bill, we seem to be undermining this partnership for political expediency.

A few months ago, with H.R. 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, the Majority voted to remove any Federal role in establishing certain water quality standards, leaving the States the final word.

Then, just yesterday, the House voted to approve a Coast Guard authorization in which the Majority formally rejected any role for the States to protect important local water resources from invasive species.

Today, I have to assume, we are back to the view that States are better equipped to protect their local waterbodies from the chemicals and pollutants contained in fracking wastes.

In my view, this committee and the public would be better served delving into the complex questions of how best to balance our need for domestic fuel production with the protection of public health and the environment in a cautionary manner.

In my view, the issue of how we structure the development of our domestic natural gas resources is very important – and one that needs to be dictated by a modicum of caution.  Potentially releasing these largely-undisclosed chemicals into our groundwaters, our underground aquifers, and our surface waters will have economic, public health, and environmental consequences for generations to come.

We need to be prudent in understanding the implications of our actions before we take them, as the cost of cleaning up our mistakes, afterward, has the potential to be massive.

I yield back the balance of my time.