Lawmaker Questions ACS Journal Editor | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: February 3, 2012

Lawmaker Questions ACS Journal Editor

Congress: Harris seeks defense of 2010 editorial on hydraulic fracturing
Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: hydraulic fracturing, fracking, EPA, scientific integrity

The chairman of a House Science, Space & Technology subcommittee is asking the editor-in-chief of an American Chemical Society journal to justify the wording of an editorial published in 2010.

At a Feb. 3 hearing about the quality of science at the Environmental Protection Agency, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), chairman of the Energy & Environment Subcommittee, questioned Jerald L. Schnoor, editor-in-chief of Environmental Science & Technology, about the editorial.

Schnoor, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, was called as a witness at the hearing because of his extensive experience with EPA science. He is a member of EPA’s Science Advisory Board and has chaired the agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors. Schnoor is also the chair of a National Research Council committee preparing a report about science for EPA’s future.

But Harris shifted his line of questioning from EPA science to Schnoor’s editorial, which argued that there is too little oversight and regulation of oil and natural gas drilling. The opinion piece was titled “Regulate, Baby, Regulate”(Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es102534k).

Harris took issue with part of the editorial that described the documentary Gasland, a film critical of hydraulic fracturing, a drilling method often called fracking that uses water, sand, and chemicals to free natural gas from shale. The lawmaker attacked Schnoor’s use of the phrase “in addition to causing tap water to burn” in connection to hydraulic fracturing.

“A scientist uses words very specifically,” Harris said. “You used the word ‘cause,’ a very specific scientific word that means there is a cause and effect.

“I looked through the entire literature yesterday and I couldn’t find scientific evidence that hydrofracturing caused anybody’s tap water to burn,” Harris said. “In fact there’s overwhelming evidence that it was not a result of gas coming from deep sources.”

“You chose to use the word ‘cause’ as a scientist. Does that mean when you write an opinion piece you use different words than when you write a science piece?” Harris said.

As Schnoor began to answer that the phrase was used in describing the documentary, Harris cut him off. The lawmaker said he wanted the scientist’s answer in writing.

“I’m going to ask you to submit proof of the use of the word ‘cause’ because I looked over the science. I’m convinced that the overwhelming evidence is that it [hydrofracturing] didn’t cause it,” Harris said.

Schnoor tells C&EN, “I did not conclude that ‘fracking’ necessarily caused water to catch fire from natural gas contamination.” He adds, “But that is what was implied in the documentary Gasland.”

The legislator’s line of questioning came two days after he convened a hearing on a draft EPA report that tentatively concludes that hydraulic fracturing contaminated an aquifer in Wyoming. Some Republicans contend the study is part of an EPA attempt to stop this method of gas extraction.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
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Comments
Vera Scroggins (February 4, 2012 9:26 AM)
Rep. Harris's mode of questioning was aggressive and not helpful in getting information but full of his own emotional attachment to promoting gas extraction and fracking.
Cheryl Everman (February 4, 2012 3:15 PM)
Harris is using the same thuggery in Congress that he used in the Maryland State House. I am embarassed to be one of his constituents. This hearing was designed to for one thing and one thing only -- to try to make the case that the science behind fracking is "bad science." “I’m going to ask you to submit proof of the use of the word ‘cause’ because I looked over the science. I’m convinced that the overwhelming evidence is that it [hydrofracturing] didn’t cause it,” Harris said.Schnoor tells C&EN, “I did not conclude that ‘fracking’ necessarily caused water to catch fire from natural gas contamination.” He adds, “But that is what was implied in the documentary Gasland.”

I'd like Harris to submit proof that he is a human being.

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