The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board, recently announced the creation of a new panel on hydraulic fracturing, generally referred to as “fracing”. The formation of the panel comes as the Obama administration is working to revise draft rules for fracing. With new technologies like fracing leading to historic amounts of oil and gas production for the US, this topic is hotter than ever.
The new panel, called the Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel, will be made up of 31 experts (see the list of experts here).Among the 31 are several consultants, two government employees, and 21 academics and college professors. To compose the panel, the EPA asked for nominations of recognized scientists and engineers in the field of hydraulic fracturing, which resulted in 144 candidates. That group was whittled down to 31 through checks for financial and other conflicts of interest. There are at least three experts representing each of the following areas: Petroleum/Natural Gas Engineering; Petroleum/Natural Gas Well Drilling; Hydrology/Hydrogeology; Geology /Geophysics; Groundwater Chemistry/Geochemistry; Toxicology/Biology; Statistics; Civil Engineering; and Waste Water and Drinking Water Treatment. The Chair of the panel is Dr. David A. Dzombak, an environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg.
This panel of experts will peer review the EPA’s 2014 draft report on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. It will also provide scientific feedback on the EPA’s research methods. In particular, the panel is expected to provide information on emerging science and technology for the Science Advisory Board. The report itself is the product of a request by Congress that the EPA commenced in 2010. The draft study plan for the proposed report was submitted in March 2011.
The panel will meet in the summer of 2013 to go over initial thoughts and individual feedback from the EPA’s 2012 progress report on the fracing study. At that meeting the public will also have an opportunity to provide information to the panel.
Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said, “Our final report on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources must be based on sound science and take into account the latest practices being used by the industry. We have worked to ensure that the study process be open and transparent throughout, and the SAB panel is another example of our approach of openness and scientific rigor.”
I have two big questions about this panel. First, I wonder how truly independent the panel will be in terms of assessing EPA’s standards and research. Already earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management pulled back a proposed new rule for hydraulic fracturing after negative comments. Over the last few months, the Obama administration has held nine meetings about fracing. Fracing is such a politicized issue, it will be interesting to see how effective this “independent” panel. Secondly, the panel is heavy on academics and extremely light on experts with real world fracing experience. That suggests that the panel’s results may be great on theory but missing any truly relevant information. We have enough inexperienced theorists in the EPA as it is, who have no hesitation in pronouncing regulations without any real expertise in the area affected by those regulations. We’ll see when the panel’s results come out next year.
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