EPA Releases Short List of Fracking Study Panel Candidates

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), poised to embark on a major study of the gas drilling process known a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is considering candidates for the study’s review panel. According to a New York Times report, the “short list” of candidates for that panel includes industry insiders, including one who served on the panel that reviewed the EPA’s much-maligned 2004 fracking study.

The EPA announced the fracking study in March, following an order from the US Congress. The study, which is slated to be completed in 2012, will look at the impact hydraulic fracturing has on the environment and human health. Opponents of fracking are hoping it will lead to better regulation of the industry.

According to The New York Times, the short list for the new review board includes Jon Olson, a former research engineer for Mobil who is now a professor at the University of Texas, Austin. Olson was a member of the 2004 panel. It also includes several oil company officials, including two from Shell Oil Co. and one from Newfield Exploration Co., which has significant gas holdings in Pennsylvania.

The list of potential panel members also includes critics of fracking, such as Dr. Theo Colborn of Colorado, head of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange. Her group recently completed a study detailing the potential public health threat posed by fracking. It also includes Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell University who has criticized large scale gas development in upstate New York.

The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board will make the final determination on who will serve on the panel. Prospective panelists will have to submit a confidential disclosure form outlining any financial conflicts, the Times said.

According to the Times, critics and proponents of fracturing expressed satisfaction with the short list. It is hoped that this panel will avoid the controversy that cropped up over the 2004 EPA fracking study. That study concluded that fracking posed no risks to water supplies, and was used to convince Congress to exempt the industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

That study was criticized as flawed due to heavy industry influence on its review panel. An EPA whistleblower claimed that the study’s findings were “unsupportable.” He also alleged that evidence showing that benzene and other toxic chemicals in fracking fluid could migrate into ground water had been suppressed in the final report, and that five of the seven reviewers on the panel had conflicts of interest.

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