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Members of Congress demand investigation of Halliburton drilling
15 Oct. 2004

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (HalliburtonWatch.org) -- Members of Congress called for an investigation of charges leveled by government whistleblowers who say the Bush administration altered scientific evidence to help Halliburton avoid pollution regulations. The whistleblowers say the administration was unhappy with evidence showing a drilling technique pioneered by Halliburton, known as "hydraulic fracturing," endangers human health. So, it ordered changes in policy. Hydraulic fracturing provides $1.5 billion to Halliburton each year, or 20 percent of the company's energy-related revenues.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping chemicals into the ground to breakup rock formations so that oil and gas can be more easily extracted. Critics say the drilling process is dangerous because it results in hazardous chemicals reaching public water supplies.

In 1997, while Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton, a federal appeals court in Alabama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The court order sparked a campaign by Halliburton to get Congress to overturn the court's decision, but Congress and the EPA were unresponsive until Cheney moved back to Washington.

Ten days after Cheney became vice president, he began crafting the Bush administration's energy policy, which resulted in a report that touted the benefits of hydraulic fracturing, but ignored the dangers. Congress subsequently wrote legislation that would overturn the 1997 court order and exempt the drilling technique from government regulation. The legislation is currently stalled inside the energy bill in the Senate.

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. Henry Waxman (D-CA). The new 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."

The EPA's study found some of the fluids used in fracturing were hazardous, but the health risk was reduced because the chemicals were sufficiently watered down and therefore not dangerous to drinking water supplies. The study found no proof that fracturing directly causes water contamination.

Nevertheless, five members of Congress, four Democrats and one independent, want a full congressional investigation into the safety of hydraulic fracturing and whether politics trumped science when the EPA concluded the process is safe. The members have also asked the EPA's inspector general to conduct its own investigation.

One of the whistleblowers, Weston Wilson, is a 30-year environmental engineer with the EPA. In a letter released to the public yesterday, he challenged the EPA's methodology used to justify the safety of hydraulic fracturing. He said the EPA's review panel was heavily weighted toward the energy industry and included an employee of Halliburton.

More Information:

Los Angeles Times: Investigation of Drilling Regulations Is Urged

Los Angeles Times: Halliburton's Interests Assisted by White House

EPA: Study of Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Wells on Underground Sources of Drinking Water

HalliburtonWatch: Bush administration distorts science to help Halliburton pollute

HalliburtonWatch: Energy Bill & Hydraulic Fracturing

Report: Cheney's energy policy was crafted long before becoming VP