Bush administration distorts science to shield Halliburton from pollution laws
16 March 2005
WASHINGTON, March 16 (HalliburtonWatch.org) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will investigate complaints by one of its engineers who said the agency distorts science in order to shield Halliburton from pollution laws, the Los Angeles Times reported today.
The EPA's inspector general agreed to investigate the complaint, which was first exposed by the Times last year by Weston Wilson, who is a senior engineer with the EPA.
According to Wilson, a 30-year employee with the EPA, the Bush administration purposely tampered with environmental science in order to shield a lucrative drilling technique, known as hydraulic fracturing, from all regulations. Wilson says the technique, pioneered by Halliburton, is harmful to drinking water supplies. Halliburton has spent years trying to get the federal government to exempt the technique from environmental regulations.
Wilson and environmental groups say hydraulic fracturing can contaminate drinking water supplies with carcinogens and is therefore required by law to be regulated by the EPA. In addition, activists have documented incidents where hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water supplies with hazardous chemicals.
The extra oil and gas produced each year from hydraulic fracturing boosts Halliburton's revenues by $1.5 billion, which represents 20 percent of the company's energy-related revenue. The technique involves pumping chemicals into the ground to breakup rock formations so that oil and gas can more easily be produced. Halliburton says the chemicals used are benign, but critics say hazardous chemicals have also been used, including benzene, toluene, naphthalene, trimethylnapthalene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
The Bush administration has offered an energy bill that would exempt hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation. The bill is currently pending in Congress and there is little congressional opposition to it.
"If this bill passes, American citizens will not know if toxic fracturing fluids are injected into their groundwater supply," Wilson told the Times.
An EPA panel had decided that hydraulic fracturing is "safe," but six of the seven panel members currently or formerly worked for the energy industry, the Times reported.
The EPA's approval of hydraulic fracturing was written into Vice President Dick Cheney's notoriously-secret Energy Task Force report after the agency initially complained that it can be dangerous to public health. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Mr. Wilson both accuse the EPA of initially concluding that the technique can be dangerous to public health, but then deleting this conclusion after Cheney's office demanded it. Waxman said Cheney's energy task force report "was altered to delete language critical of hydraulic fracturing."
Members of congressional staff who were skeptical of hydraulic fracturing had met with EPA officials who had confirmed that the process could release harmful chemicals into the groundwater supply. A week later, however, those same EPA officials provided a "new analysis, using changed numbers" that were favorable to Halliburton, according to Rep. Waxman. The new EPA analysis showed that hydraulic fracturing would not release dangerous levels of harmful chemicals like benzene into the public's drinking water supply. The explanation for the sudden change in analysis from the EPA was that it was "based on feedback" from unidentified industry sources. The EPA later declared in an official study that the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing "appear to be low and do not justify additional study."
If the Energy Bill becomes law, it would overturn a 1997 federal appeals court ruling in Alabama that directed the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Ever since the court's ruling, Halliburton has lobbied Congress and the president to overturn the decision.