Enviros protest engineer's nomination to EPA fracking panel

An environmental group is objecting to a petroleum engineer's nomination to a panel that will review a U.S. EPA study of a controversial oil industry production technique.

The Environmental Working Group last week sent a letter to EPA protesting the nomination of Michael Economides, a University of Houston petroleum engineering professor, to the seven-member panel that will peer-review EPA's new study on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on water supplies.

The group blasts Economides for his comments in an opinion piece in the Syracuse Post-Standard last month that said the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are "few ... and not threatening."

The environmental group disagrees with Economides' statement, citing the recent disclosure in New York of some 250 chemicals used in fracturing operations, including petroleum distillates.

"By misstating publicly available information and accepted science on hydraulic fracturing, Mr. Economides appears to be biased in favor of a predetermined outcome to EPA's study -- an outcome that would show no risks from fracturing," says the letter, which was written by Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel at Environmental Working Group.


Economides' comments are at the crux of the controversy surrounding the production technique, which involves blasting sand, water and chemicals into a wellbore at high pressure to break apart compact rocks and release trapped hydrocarbons. Industry says the technique is safe, but environmentalists have concerns about the injections' impact on water supplies. EPA is conducting the study at the behest of congressional Democrats.

Economides has been nominated to the shortlist of 82 potential candidates for the peer-review panel. An oil and gas group last week blasted the nomination of two fracturing critics to the panel (E&ENews PM, Sept. 29).

EPA's Science Advisory Board is no longer accepting comments on potential reviewers. The board's staff office director now will make the final decision about who will serve on the panel. Prospective panelists will submit confidential disclosure forms outlining any financial conflicts.

In his letter, Horwitt also urges EPA to prohibit current drilling industry employees from serving on the panel.

"The EPA should also ensure that no one on this panel stands to benefit financially from this study of fracturing," Horwitt wrote. "This consideration should prohibit current drilling industry employees from serving."

Most of the potential panelists are university professors, like Economides. But some on the short list work for oil and gas companies like Halliburton Co., Shell Oil Co. and Newfield Exploration Co. A member of a panel that reviewed a controversial 2004 report on fracturing has also been nominated to the short list (Greenwire, Sept. 20).

The results of the final study won't be released until 2012.

Click here to read the letter.

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