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Stick to fracking science, not the politics

| Saturday, June 23, 2012, 2:38 p.m.

At a recent U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson justified the agency's “desire to do additional science around hydraulic fracturing ... because the public's trust in that technology we believe is also based on the belief that we are looking to bring the very best science to bear, to ensure that it remains safe.” While no one would argue with the importance of ensuring safety in responsible shale-gas development, recent missteps and questionable actions by the EPA have regrettably cast doubt upon the agency's credibility and ability to put forth the “best science” to ensure the public's trust.

In addition to last month's embarrassing resignation of the EPA's Region 6 administrator for subjectively placing a bull's-eye on the oil and gas industry, the EPA also has shown an anti-gas bias in Pennsylvania with its attempts to torpedo the proposed MARC 1 Pipeline after the project gained approval from the federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

As a result, there is mounting concern that EPA officials are committed to political agendas instead of looking out for the overall best interests of the public.

Additionally, the EPA recently dropped a case in Texas against a company wrongly accused of polluting water wells because of a lack of clear scientific evidence and agreed to retesting water in Wyoming after its methods were questioned.

And on top of this, the EPA recently announced that after conducting its own analysis of drinking water in Dimock, a Pennsylvania town that has become one of the focal points in the hydraulic fracturing debate, no wells with unsafe levels of contamination were tied to hydraulic fracturing.

Fortunately for the American public, EPA's premature conclusions and questionable actions have forced the agency to re-evaluate allegations that hydraulic fracturing has been responsible for environmental contamination. However, the bad news is that through all of this controversy and misinformation on hydraulic fracturing and shale gas, the public has been left holding the bag — with tremendous confusion and concern about the real facts in this debate.

At a time when federal and state regulators continue to seek ways to ensure that natural-gas drilling is done safely, it is imperative that the facts are presented instead of overhyped fears.

Instead of continuing down a path of misinformation that threatens to hinder development of this promising resource, we need to focus on working together to have fact-based discussions that will lead to safe, realistic solutions.

With the huge strides made by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) over the last few generations, there are clear indications that Pennsylvania's hydraulic fracturing regulations are working. And while the EPA has an important role as partners with the state, the agency should avoid stepping into an area that the DEP has a long history of overseeing.

With so much at stake, now is the time for fact-based discussions that will lead to safe and realistic solutions. It is time to raise EPA's level of accountability by sticking to the science and rising above the politics. Working together, we can succeed in safely developing our nation's abundant resources for current needs and for future generations.

Mark S. Critz represents the 12th Congressional District.

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