July 8, 2011: Markey Statement on Hydro-Fracking at Oversight Hearing

Opening Statement,

As Prepared for Delivery 

Ranking Member Edward J. Markey

Energy and Mineral Resources and Agriculture Joint Subcommittee Oversight Hearing:

“Challenges facing Domestic Oil and Gas Development: Review of Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service Ban on Horizontal Drilling on Federal Lands”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thank you Chairman Hastings.

Recent advancements in natural gas drilling technologies have unlocked natural gas supplies in shale and other unconventional formations across the country leading to a significant expansion of natural gas production, including on BLM managed public lands. Currently 90% of all new wells on public lands are hydraulically fractured.

To explain the hydraulic fracturing process, Talisman Energy Corporation came up with a cartoon coloring book that follows the friendly FRACK-A-SAURUS named “Talisman Terry” through the natural gas drilling process. The loveable dinosaur playfully promotes the benefits of natural gas and paints a picture of a magical world filled with smiling rocks and grinning animals.  The problem is that unless you are a “FRACK-A-SAURUS” named “Talisman Terry,” this world doesn’t exist. For communities around this country the expansion of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing has meant contamination of water supplies, loss of property value, deteriorating health conditions, dead livestock, and destruction of pristine forest and agricultural lands.

A recent series of investigative reports in the New York Times have highlighted some of the potential risks of natural gas drilling and inconsistent efforts to regulate this booming industry.

For example, the Times reported that wastewater from hydraulic fractured wells is often contaminated with toxic heavy metals, highly corrosive salts, cancer causing chemicals such as benzene, and radioactive elements. A large amount of this wastewater is disposed in municipal sewage treatment plants that are not capable of removing the contaminants. This wastewater discharge can also enter into local waterways as was the case in Pennsylvania, 3 months ago, when equipment failure caused tens of thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water to spew out of the well and into a nearby creek. 

These fluids are so toxic that a study by Forest Service researchers, published earlier this week, found that when fracturing fluids were spilled in the forest they killed all plants and trees in the area.

Without proper oversight, the disposal of drilling wastewater poses threats to agricultural lands, aquatic life and human health, particularly when public drinking water systems rely on waterways where waste is being discharged.

To further cloud the problem, the oil and gas industry enjoy exemptions or exclusions from key parts of at least 7 of the 15 major federal environmental laws designed to protect public health, air and water, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. Many of these companies have also refused to disclose the contents of their fracturing fluids.

A century ago, Rep. Weeks of Massachusetts guided into law the landmark legislation that allowed the lands that make up the George Washington National Forest to be purchased from private individuals. This protected forestland  is habitat for hundreds of animals, drives tourism for the local economy, and provides a safe source of drinking water to almost 300,000 local residents. Even more so, although this forest is located in Virginia, it protects the source of water that feeds our faucets right here in Washington, DC.

While horizontal drilling has never occurred in the George Washington National Forest expansion of these technologies without adequate safety and oversight could threaten natural resources and has the potential to turn stretches of forest into lifeless dunes--An environment that would only support the imaginary Terry the FRACK-A-SAURUS .

While the discovery of new gas resources creates a domestic energy and economic opportunity, we must ensure that this exploration and production for natural gas is done safely and responsibly and leaves us with a forest full of trees for another century and not a chemical wasteland.