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WASHINGTON, PA, June 13 — Tonight a federal task force on hydraulic fracturing holds a hearing in Pennsylvania's gas patch, and citizens will testify to water contamination, air pollution, and other health and community hazards of industrial gas development. But the panel will also hear from fracking supporters — some of them drawn to the event by the natural gas industry's offers of airfare, hotel rooms, and meals.

The hearing at Washington & Jefferson College is the only scheduled meeting outside of Washington, D.C., of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Natural Gas Subcommittee on Fracking Issues, appointed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu to make recommendations for improving the safety of hydraulic fracturing, in which thousands of gallons of chemical-laced fluids are injected underground to force gas to the surface. The meeting was added after Earthworks and its allies raised concerns that many of the Subcommittee's members are closely tied to the oil and gas industry, that no one directly impacted by drilling was included, and that meetings were not being held in gasland communities.

“It's encouraging that this nationwide problem is being discussed at the federal level,” said Nadia Steinzor, an organizer with Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “But we need action. Drilling-related pollution, health problems, and ruined properties are not hypothetical scenarios that might occur in the future — they're happening here and now, and real people are suffering.”

“We're here to make sure this federal taskforce hears the message loud and clear from people whose environment and health has been compromised by Marcellus Shale gas extraction,” said Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment. “Government at all levels has a responsibility to ensure we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and protected pristine areas. Unfortunately, there are too many places in Pennsylvania where gas drilling has already taken all this away.”

“We urge the DOE SEAB natural gas subcommittee to seriously consider additional public meetings across the country. The panel should seek out guidance from the residents that have been impacted by drilling”, said Deborah Nardone, Director for the Natural Gas Campaign of the Sierra Club. ” How can the panel effectively define strategies to make hydrofracking safer if they aren't hearing what the problems are? “

“While the Department of Energy has been looking at best management practices, it's the worst management practices by drilling companies that are causing damage. States need the resources and regulatory power of the federal government to oversee the oil and gas industry,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania State Director for Clean Water Action. “In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection budget has been cut year after year, and is now less than half the size it was 10 years ago.”

“Permit violations by drillers were documented by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in 2010 at almost 7 per day and have increased to about 11 per day so far this year. The fact is, drilling here is not safe and is getting worse due to poor regulations and oversight,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director of Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “Pennsylvania needs outside intervention to protect communities and the environment from gas development.”

And as reported by The Huffington Post, on June 9 a Pennsylvania affiliate of Energy in Depth (a national association of natural gas industry groups) sent an alert about the DOE meeting to its email list that offered “incentives” to attend, including bus or airfare, hotel rooms, reimbursement for meals, and tickets to a Pirates-Mets baseball game. (The baseball ticket offer was later withdrawn.)

“It's unconscionable that a gas industry group would literally buy time at a public hearing by bribing people to attend and to encourage them to fill a room seemingly in support of fracking, an industry that has shown little regard for their health or the environment,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch.

According to Earthworks and other state and national organizations, to have any credibility, the task force's recommendations must include:

  • A reversal of special exemptions for the oil and gas industry in seven major federal environmental laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
  • Support for the completion of a comprehensive Environmental Protection Agency study on the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water.
  • Requirements for full public disclosure of specific chemicals used by the drilling industry, including concentrations and amounts used at each well site.
  • A cumulative impacts analysis of the health and environmental effects of the expansion of industrial shale gas development over time.
  • Federal and state regulatory requirements for best practices with regard to water use, waste treatment and disposal, non-toxic fracturing fluids, and other aspects.
  • Transparency in the Subcommittee's deliberations and inclusion of the knowledge and experiences of citizen experts from communities affected by drilling.

— ENDS —

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