Scientists criticize oil, gas bias on fracking panel

By David O. Williams
Real AspenAugust 11, 2011
A group of doctors and scientists from 24 different universities and non-profit research organizations – including Colorado School of Mines and the University of Colorado – recently sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu blasting his picks for a Department of Energy panel studying the controversial natural gas drilling process of hydraulic fracturing.

The group wrote that the panel is tilted too much to oil and gas interests and that “reducing individual biases” would lead to a more balanced report without “advocacy-based science” that “seems to have already concluded that hydraulic fracturing is safe.”

However, the panel did release its report today, making several recommendations for improving safety and addressing environmental concerns about the process in which water, sand and frequently undisclosed chemicals are injected under high pressure deep into natural gas wells to fracture tight rock formations and free up more gas.

The panel, dubbed the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, stopped short of actually making regulatory recommendations but did call for greater transparency and disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

That has been a key legislative goal of U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both Colorado Democrats, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper last week announced his intention to push for a new fracking rule at the state level that would compel disclosure of chemicals.

The letter to Chu was signed by researchers with Paonia, Colo.-based TEDX, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, as well as the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado, which recently conducted a Health Impact Assessment on natural gas drilling in Garfield County.

“We urge you to modify the panel’s membership so that the panel can make recommendations on hydraulic fracturing that are unbiased and scientifically sound,” the group wrote. “In our work, we believe in reducing individual biases in evaluating the merits of scientific or technological ideas. The current panel does not meet this standard. Six of the seven members have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry.”

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