WASHINGTON — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told a House committee Tuesday that she favored natural gas production and said she didn't know of any “proven case” in which hydraulic fracturing had affected drinking water.
Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator, also told Rep. James Lankford that natural gas companies should be well aware of the study being done by the agency on hydraulic fracturing because their input has been solicited.
Jackson testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which released separate reports on energy this week.
The Republican majority report accused the Obama administration of trying to raise energy prices by stifling domestic oil and gas production and pursuing climate change policies, while Democrats said excessive speculation in the oil futures market was behind recent spikes in oil prices.
The reports, and the committee hearing, extended the partisan debate that has been ongoing in Washington since gasoline prices started rising weeks ago.
Jackson and an Interior Department official defended the Obama administration's record in approving new leases and permits for offshore drilling in the year since the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. David Hayes, deputy Interior secretary, said production in the Gulf had been essentially stable since the accident.
Jackson sought to counter Republican charges that the EPA wanted to slow natural gas production by seeking to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process, in use for decades, involves injecting chemicals, water and sand into a well to fracture rock and release gas.
Jackson said natural gas creates less air pollution than other fossil fuels “so increasing America's natural gas production is a good thing.”
She said Congress told the EPA to study the relationship between fracking and drinking water.
“We are doing that, with input from technical experts, the public and industry,” she said.
“In the meantime, EPA will step in to protect local residents if a driller jeopardizes clean water and the state government does not act.”
Under questioning from a Pennsylvania Republican, Jackson said she was “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself” had affected water.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said later that other EPA officials have said the same thing in recent years.
“Lisa Jackson's statement today that she does not know of any proven cases of water contamination further demonstrates that states are regulating hydraulic fracturing effectively and efficiently, and there is no need for the federal government to step in,” Inhofe said.
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, told Jackson that natural gas companies in his district told him they had “no idea” what was happening in regard to the EPA's study on hydraulic fracturing.
Jackson said she was “perplexed” that the companies wouldn't know about a study that has been transparent from the outset and involved industry input. She said the scope of the study is still being defined. It is not expected to be completed until late next year.