- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The oil and gas industry continues to cast doubt on the validity of an ongoing Environmental Protection Agency effort to determine potential links between fracking and water contamination.

The international research firm Battelle on Tuesday released a major new report on the EPA’s study methods, which many critics think is meant solely to demonize fossil fuels and provide political justification for sweeping new federal regulations. The American Petroleum Institute and the America’s Natural Gas Alliance commissioned the Battelle report, though neither organization would reveal how much they paid to have it done.

Republicans quickly seized on the survey, which identifies several significant “deficiencies” in how the EPA is going about its investigation, the preliminary results of which are due in December.

“The Battelle report provides many constructive recommendations that EPA can undertake to improve the transparency, quality and ultimate value of its study,” said Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican and chairman of the House science committee’s subcommittee on energy and the environment. “I hope and expect that EPA will work hard to address Battelle’s recommendations.”

One of the most troublesome portions of EPA’s effort, the study found, is its scope. While Congress directed the agency to look for any links between fracking - the use of water, sand and chemicals to break underground rock and release trapped fuel - and water pollution, EPA appears to be going further.

The report points out that the EPA inquiry is also “encompassing numerous peripheral elements,” such as fracking site preparation and development and the treatment of wastewater produced by the practice.

Battelle also charges that the EPA has remained ambiguous about the true goal of its study. While the agency has stated that the results of the survey “will inform the public,” it has not explicitly stated that its findings will become the basis for regulations, as is widely expected by industry analysts, insiders and many congressional Republicans.

The industry-funded review also found fault with EPA’s case studies, sites in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas and North Dakota where water supplies are being tested for pollution.

“Some of the data date back to 2005, 2006, 2007. When the final report will be delivered in 2014, those data will be close to 10 years old,” Battelle Vice President Bernhard Metzger told reporters Tuesday. “The changes occurring at these sites in the intervening years will likely render these data obsolete.”

Despite the criticism, the EPA is defending its study and assuring the oil and gas industry that its concerns will be taken into account.

“As the president has made clear, natural gas has a central role to play in our nation’s energy future,” says a statement from an agency spokesperson who asked not to be named. “EPA designed and is conducting the study to meet the highest standards of scientific rigor, data quality and peer review. … EPA will ensure that stakeholders, including industry, are actively involved at all stages of the study.”