Top Dem Seeks EPA Studies on Possible Toxic Shale Wastewater

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
28 February 2011
By Daniel Malloy
WASHINGTON -- The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee is asking the Environmental Protection Agency for a slew of documents related to natural gas hydraulic fracturing.

Responding to an investigative piece published over the weekend in the New York Times, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson asking for responses to various reports in the Times story regarding toxic wastewater from fracking.

"I do not believe that the price for energy extracted from deep beneath the earth's surface should include a risk to the health of those who live above it," he wrote in a letter dated Saturday. "I am outraged that state and federal regulators were evidently well aware of the risks that the wastewater might pose, but instead chose to adopt a 'see no evil, hear no evil approach' to regulation by ignoring them."

The Times story reported that in Pennsylvania and other states wastewater treatment plants were unable to remove harmful contaminants from leftover material used in fracking.

Mr. Markey asked Ms. Jackson to provide any new steps the agency is taking to test sources of drinking water that are downstream from treatment plants that take in drilling waste and, if no regulatory changes are planned, to justify that decision in light of the Times report.

He also asks for internal agency documents regarding studies of wastewater treatment plants and their ability to remove radium and other toxic substances from drilling waste, and other possible harmful outcomes related to processing the byproducts of fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, a newly booming industry in Pennsylvania because of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits, involves pumping a mix of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock formations to release the gas.

Mr. Markey has long been a leading Democratic voice on environmental issues. He was a co-author of the 2009 cap-and-trade climate legislation that passed the House but failed to go anywhere in the Senate.

Daniel Malloy: or 202-445-9980. Follow him on Twitter at PG_in_DC.