Rockwall's Rep. Ralph Hall Blasts EPA and Science at Fracking Hearing

Categories: Politics

ralph hall.JPG
Congressman Ralph Hall, the Republican from Rockwall
Allow us to re-introduce you to the octogenarian congressman who's currently perched atop the catbird seat in the oversight hearings every fracker in America is watching with bated breath. His name is Ralph Hall. He's the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. One of its subcommittees, on which he is the senior member, is Energy and Environment. That's some big medicine right about now.

He's from Rockwall, where he served as a county judge and practiced law for years. He's the oldest serving member of either House of Congress: Hall turns 89 in May. Until 2004, he was a lifelong Democrat and a founder of the moderate Blue Dogs. This cycle, the oil and gas industry was his second largest campaign contributor. Unfair Park asked for an interview, but was told he didn't have time.

Hall and the Republicans on the subcommittee spent much of the week caning the EPA over a study that sent shock waves through the energy industry: the detection of groundwater contamination in Wyoming they believe is directly linked to hydraulic fracturing. Residents in Pavilion had been griping about hydrocarbon-flavored water for years. EPA was compelled to investigate. What it found was scary as hell. Sampling of deep observation wells found benzene -- that nasty stuff that gives you cancer sure as yer born -- at 50 times the acceptable level for drinking water. They ruled out the surface pits into which Encana dumped its pollutant-laced produced water. To be sure, it had already contaminated ground water that way (the company has been providing residents with safe drinking water for some time now), but not at these depths. There weren't really any other ways to account for the presence of benzene that deep.

The industry and GOP lawmakers sprang into action, blasting the study and its sampling methods. Inexorably, it led to this week's oversight hearing, from which Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox was unceremoniously ejected because he tried to tape it. Just by perusing the witness list on the first day, you could tell it had little to do with science, and everything to do with undermining it.

Present was Tom Doll, state oil and gas supervisor, whose job it is to oversee permitting and serve as an industry cheerleader (full disclosure: I used to cover gas drilling in Wyoming). Also present was Kathleen Sgamma of Western Energy Alliance, who has no scientific training and is essentially a lobbyist. In fact, there were no testifying scientists on that first day.

The order of business was EPA bashing, not bad water, and in that regard, an exchange between Hall and regional EPA administrator James Martin was telling. But first, he tried to pin Doll down regarding his contention that the EPA didn't consult with the state during its investigation. This, despite the fact Doll represents just one arm of state oil and gas regulation, and it's not the one whose expertise the EPA would need. He hedged his answer, saying EPA may have sent an email to the state department of environmental quality.

"They may have sent an email?" Hall replied, aghast. "That's not consulting. That's their own arrogant approach to it. They just sent them an email. They didn't consult with them. You're not testifying that they consulted with them, are you?"

"No, I am not," Doll replied, because he wouldn't really know anyway.

Next, Hall leveled his gaze at Martin, the EPA regional guy, asking why EPA chief Lisa Jackson would say they submitted a sampling plan to the state when they hadn't. But before Martin can answer, Hall wasn't finished.

"You hadn't known when [Chairman Andy Harris] asked you the other questions about that."

"I'm sorry, sir..." Martin began.

"You've not been able to testify ... you wouldn't cross the governor if you had that information in front of you," Hall cut in. "You're under oath now, you know that, don't you?"

"I am, Mr. Chairman. I think we conducted significantly more consultation than Mr. Doll might be aware of. Early in the process, the Department of Environmental Quality was designated as the lead agency in the State of Wyoming as a part of this process. We consulted with Encana."

There was an interminable silence.

Hall asked if the study's peer reviewers will include at least one recommended by the state of Wyoming. "Sure," Martin replied. As long as they have the credentials.

"The case of the Pavilion case we're examining today reflects a troubling effort by the EPA for building a case for regulating and even shutting down unconventional oil and gas production around the country," Hall said. "They're doing it all over the country, even in Wyoming. EPA has had it handed to 'em time after time by this committee and the Committee on Science and Technology. I'm sorry to say the liberal press hasn't printed it properly, but they always say they need more investigation. But we've had people who've had years and years of experience and have been here under oath and testified that there's not any way in the world fracking could have contaminated drinking water in the examples given to them. You understand that?"

"Yessir," Martin said, looking confused. "Is it a question?"

"In Pennsylvania, for example, the EPA had recently, oh ... I don't want to ask you that. It's important to recognize what EPA is doing in Wyoming, and it's not isolated. They're going after fracking in every way they can. I guess that's what I'm trying to tell you."

That wasn't a question, and there wasn't much Martin could say in reply during a hearing that should have been about the second documented case of groundwater contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing (the first being a long-buried case in West Virginia). The EPA can't say that what happened in Wyoming could happen in the Barnett Shale or anywhere else. But what they found raises troubling questions that require more hard questions from the lawmakers representing the people of the shale and the coal-bed and whatever formation the industry is fracking.

The Chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, however, had no further questions.

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34 comments
RTGolden
RTGolden

I can agree with the esteemed congressman on only one point: we need more research.  Not just in Wyoming, but on fracking in general.  The topic has become, as US political topics invariably do, highly emotionally charged.  Reading various reports, studies, and news tidbits on fracking one finds that it is completely over-regulated and grossly unsupervised; imminently fatal to life on earth and as benign as butterfly wings; an imperative economic savior and a profit-ploy for gas exporters.  What one doesn't find is any rational discussion over the pros and cons, any level-headed debate on whether the risks here outweigh the potential gains.

That being said, with what the risks are purported to be, I think the prudent move would be to halt fracking until more information is available.  When the risks involve the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food we eat, a fair amount of caution is called for.

WCGasette
WCGasette

A rational discussion?  Do we rationally discuss when an 18-wheeler crashes on the freeway and spills toxic chemicals?  Or do we act right away? Do we rationally discuss when a chemical plant (Magnablend) explodes as it did in Waxahachie last October 3, 2011? Or do we act right away?

Rational discussion is not possible when there is "imminent danger."  While Rome is  burning our state and country are fiddling away.  Ralph Hall doesn't live near shale gas drilling and fracking operations.  He can't relate to any of it because one thing we know:  The Oil and Gas business keeps the public very confused about unconventional shale gas drilling and fracking.  It's by design. Old Ralph Hall is their best advocate since he only knows the "glory days" of Oil and Gas when drilling a hole in the ground was all it took to get the oil and and gas out of the ground.

The "risk" involves more than the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. The "risk" is that our neighborhoods and communities are literally being destroyed by this industry.  They say it's "Barnett Progress."  That kind of propaganda is repulsive to those of us who have seen up close what's going on. 

RTGolden
RTGolden

This would be a prime example of emotionally charged, irrational reaction to my comment.  Had you bothered to take a Xanax and actually finish reading it, and comprehend it, you would have seen that I called for a HALT to fracking until after we've had a rational discussion and come to considered decisions.Read, comprehend, consider, then comment.  Thank you.

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

Does anything useful ever get done at a public hearing, or are they all just bully pulpits for the congress people?

Augie
Augie

The Fox News Party fax machine has been cranking again. The DMN ran an editorial piece by some ex Perry appointee proclaiming that the EPA was going to destroy the economy by its outrageous attempts to prevent mercury and other poisons from being freely spewed into the air and water by whatever business wants to do so. The EPA is the current FNP whipping boy.  How many folks are going to get excited about the need to dismantle this bureaucratic "super power" and its obviously elitist liberal goals to slow down the poisoning of the air, water and ground we live on? 

 I would love to see a column devoted to every time the Rove party locksteps on some position that it be called out for the political goosestepping that it really is.  Sadly, so many intelligent folks shovel up and eat what droppings they are asked to.   

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Might not be original but ,Maybe  all  our elected officials  should be like NASCAR Folks and wear suits with the logos of the  Campaign  contributors  on it .?

books-r-for-kidz
books-r-for-kidz

Rep.Hall, you look a bit thirsty. Care to have a drink of some high quality Wyoming h2o???

Jhall
Jhall

and the Dallas Morning News keeps endorsing him.

Is there no leadership in the Republican Party that sees the need for replacing Ralph HallAND Sam Johnson????

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

The folks in his area voted him in AGAIN so I guess they are okay with him.And he is doing the bidding of BIG Business and the Party which it seems on the  Congressional faves list of the Nation these days .

So this isn't going to change .

claytonauger
claytonauger

"I used to cover gas drilling in Wyoming" So how come your ass isn't down at City Hall covering the crap out of how the City of Dallas is not going to be learning any lessons from Wyoming? Robert?

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

The gas industry and their apologists are all whores. And not the pretty kind either. They're going to eventually eliminate all of us.

NealK
NealK

Before we get all teary-eyed about Josh Fox's removal from the hearing, let's remember that Gasland wasn't exactly scientifically based either:

http://www.mediaite.com/online...

claytonauger
claytonauger

Are you kidding me? Whcih gas company do you work for Neil? Gasland is understating the problem - take a tour of Denton County sometime. 

NealK
NealK

Calm yourself, madam.  I didn't write the article at that link.  Did you read it?  Didn't think so.

TacoBellGas
TacoBellGas

Nah, they all think Gasland was science and fact when it's really a religion.  They don't actually want to educate themselves about anything.  Gasland said it, we believe it, that settles it!   Funny how no one ever talks about the benzene emissions from your average corner gas station or the deadly water soluable poison forced into gasoline supplies by congress made from "natural" corn.  Thank goodness the monkey revolution will soon free us from all these worries.

LG
LG

Your democracy, people. Cherish it.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

It's amazing the the Local clown has a reporter arrested for being, a reporter, and the local press says and does nothing.

God, I hate our local press agents er, reporters, present company excluded.

Real Deal
Real Deal

The EPA wells in question were atypical where fracking was done 400 feet from the groundwater supply. Drilling safety does need to be further regulated but the EPA report should not be used to imply that all groundwater near fracking will be contaminated. 'Scary as hell' with no further explanation is what I call bullshit journalism.

Courtney Helms
Courtney Helms

You may want to read the EPA study, or even the post above. In case you don't want to, let me quote the relevant part.

"The EPA can't say that what happened in Wyoming could happen in the Barnett Shale or anywhere else."

John F. Borowski
John F. Borowski

This is a tragedy of our democracy. Money now has more power over people and their commonsense. Corporate money is taken over science. This is shameful. This is not a tree hugger issue: this is an issue of fair play and decency. Our children and their parents deserve clean water. Period.

Montemalone
Montemalone

It amazes me how people can sell out and becomes spokes-whores for this industry.I wish there was a way to force them to live on land over frackjng sites and drink and bathe in the water from the area wells.I wonder if they'd change their tune when their skin fell off.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

The gas industry is a whore.

Nawar A
Nawar A

The solution for fraccing pollution is waterless fraccing;Gasfrac has done over a 1000 fracs with gelled propane; you don’t need anywater; you don’t produce any waste fluids (no need for injection wells); noneed to flare (no CO2 emissions); truck traffic is cut to a trickle from 900+trips per well for water fraccing to 30 with propane fracs; and on top of thatthe process increases oil and gas production; it is a win for the industry, awin for the community and a win for the environment.

yeahIsaidthat
yeahIsaidthat

Yeah, let's inject propane into the earth? Are you serious? The industry has no shame, no morals.

LL
LL

My concern is the massive amounts of water that it uses. So why aren't they doing this instead of using up all of our water and then returning it contaminated.   

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

You know, when you're a sock puppet, you don't have to use your real name.

Larry
Larry

Either Hall is an old man with a hard-wired brain who cannot see beyond his biases OR he has been paid off by the industry with nice fat campaign donations, OR MOST LIKELY, BOTH.

Markoneal
Markoneal

The Hall's have been lining their pockets for decades and running Rockwall for the same amount of time. We have got to get some term limits in place along with some campaign finace limits.

McDoom
McDoom

 "Unfair Park asked for an interview, but was told he didn't have time."

Don't feel too bad, he never gives interviews to the local Rockwall paper or to the DMN either.

Rangers100
Rangers100

Especially after his 4pm dinner at Luby's.

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