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Hydraulic fracturing foe gains clout in House

By OGJ editors
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 -- The powerful US House Committee on Energy and Commerce has a new leader who has consistently opposed operations crucial to the production of natural gas from unconventional reservoirs.

Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) succeeded in a bid, launched the day after the Nov. 4 general election, to unseat John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman since 1981 and the longest-serving member of Congress.

Waxman, a supporter of aggressive environmental causes, is a persistent foe of hydraulic fracturing, a completion technique applied to wells drilled into low-permeability reservoirs such as shales and coalbeds (OGJ, Nov. 17, 2008, p. 20).

In the last session of Congress, Waxman was chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In a hearing of that committee he called hydraulic fracturing "a dangerous practice."

He has criticized a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempted hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The completion method, which producers have used for nearly 60 years, is regulated at the state level.

A more immediate issue before the energy committee in the next session of Congress, however, will be climate change.

A bill drafted by Dingell and Rep. Dick Boucher (D-Va.) and published last month sets reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions in line with those espoused by President-Elect Barack Obama.

But the draft has drawn criticism from environmental groups because of accommodations it makes to the auto and coal industries, which are important to Dingell and Boucher.

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