HYDRAULIC FRACTURING:

Bishop widens probe into Park Service's withdrawn comments on BLM rule

A leading House Republican yesterday asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to weigh in on the National Park Service's decision last month to withdraw hydraulic fracturing comments that were submitted without its director's approval.

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees national parks, told Jewell he's troubled that the Park Service "lacks a system of data accountability and quality control."

He asked Jewell to clarify how Interior Department bureaus review and submit comments on rulemakings and whether any other Interior agencies have commented on the Bureau of Land Management's draft hydraulic fracturing rule.

He also asked whether Jewell has taken steps to ensure that agency employees do not submit "erroneous, inappropriate and unapproved comments," or whether employees are educated on the agency's comment protocols.

"The NPS comments enabled the false narrative that hydraulic fracturing is not regulated and is unsafe," Bishop wrote in a letter to Jewell, asking her to promptly ensure that the Park Service comments are stricken from the record. "Time is of the essence. Too much time has passed since the inaccuracies were highlighted and presented to NPS."

Park Service Director Jon Jarvis last month acknowledged that the comments inappropriately relied on editorials rather than peer-reviewed science, though he did not call them inaccurate (EnergyWire, Nov. 27).

"I have requested that the comments be withdrawn from the record," Jarvis wrote to Bishop in a letter dated Nov. 12. "The comments did not undergo management review, they were not on official letterhead, and they were not signed."

Jarvis added that neither he, the White House nor the Office of Management and Budget had reviewed the comments.

The Aug. 23 comments from NPS staff obtained by Greenwire urged BLM to take stronger steps to ensure that methane from oil and gas development does not leak into groundwater or escape into the atmosphere, where it acts as a potent greenhouse gas (Greenwire, Aug. 28).

Bishop criticized the comments for citing a New York Times opinion piece by Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, a frequent critic of the drilling industry. In the opinion piece, Ingraffea calls the increase in natural gas drilling "a gangplank to more warming and away from clean energy investments" because of the fugitive methane it emits.

The NPS comments also said BLM's rule failed to address impacts to wildlife, threatened and endangered species, cultural resources, visual resources, recreation and other park uses, though they did not elaborate on those concerns.

The comments were in memo form and referred questions to Julie Thomas McNamee, NPS's air resources liaison in Washington, D.C.

A Park Service spokesman said the agency does not discuss personnel matters.

BLM's draft rule has received more than 1.3 million comments. Interior expects to finalize it in 2014.

Environmentalists have argued that the rule fails to provide adequate well integrity standards and shouldn't use the industry-backed FracFocus website for disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. Industry groups, Western states and Republicans have argued that the fracturing process is already adequately regulated by states and that the BLM rule would significantly raise costs for developing public lands.

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