The Mix: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
[ASSURAS] Without horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the shale oil and natural gas booms wouldn't exist. Critics say the drilling can contaminate ground water, claims being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in Madison, Wisconsin, this week to speak with university students and with young budding scientists at an elementary school. We caught up with her to talk about pressing environmental issues, including fracking.
The EPA is doing its own study of the environmental impacts of fracking. From what you've seen so far, should there be new federal regulations?
[JACKSON] It's too soon to tell. We're doing a congressionally mandated study of the impact of hydraulic fracking on drinking water sources, and we're taking a life cycle approach. We've announced that the earliest we'll start to see some preliminary results will be next year. Of course, if we see something along the way, I've said, we're not going to keep that hidden, especially if it has a potential impact on the environment or health, but we have no data right now that lead us to believe one way or the other that there needs to be specific federal regulation of the fracking process.
[ASSURAS] A study in Wyoming just came out, your own study, that detected contamination of aquifer water. Does that concern you? That was near natural gas fracking.
[JACKSON] Well, certainly any detection of pollution is something to be concerned about. We met with state officials and we met with local leaders and we also talked to the company involved -- it happened to be EnCana -- about our results. And we have results from two additional monitoring wells, and they are of concern. One of the things that I think is important to recognize is that that particular formation in Wyoming is a fairly deep form-- a shallow formation, excuse me. And so it is possible that fracking in one bearing zone might have impacted nearby areas that may contain some ground water. But we have absolutely no indication right now that drinking water is at risk, and actually the company has stepped forward to provide alternate sources of water, and we're working with them on potential needs for any additional protection.
[ASSURAS] So hundreds of shale wells are being drilled across the country -- at this point, you consider them safe, there shouldn't be a slowdown of any sort?
[JACKSON] Well, what we consider is that they are regulated already at the state level. The vast majority of oil and gas production is regulated at the state level. There are issues of whether or not the federal government can add to protection and also peace of mind for citizens by looking at large issues like air pollution impacts, which can be regional. EPA has proposed regulations out right now to deal with air pollution impacts. We have the study you mentioned in terms of drinking water impacts, and we recently announced that we intend to regulate -- it will take a period of time to develop regulations -- wastewater from fracking to ensure that it's properly disposed of. So it's not to say that there isn't a federal role, but you can't start to talk about a federal role without acknowledging the very strong state role.
[ASSURAS] Coal-fired power plants, okay? They provide about half the electricity in this country. Most of them are more than 30 years old. And the Energy Secretary said earlier this year that there will be massive retirements. How many are going to be shut down, do you think, under your regulations?
[JACKSON] First off, EPA doesn't require shutting down of any plant. What EPA does is set nationwide limits for how much a plant can emit, how much mercury you're allowed to put in the air, how much lead, how much arsenic, how many ozone precursors, how much SO2, which contributes to acid rain. That's EPA's job. How much particulate matter. Once EPA sets those rules and sets a national standard, a business has to look at their portfolio and make a decision about whether to invest in plants or not. You know, coal is less than 50% of our generation now. And, because of increasing supplies of natural gas, natural gas is becoming an economical way to provide base-load power in our country.
[ASSURAS] Is that what they're going to be replaced by?
[JACKSON] No, I can't say what a business will decide to do. Some businesses are investing in nuclear, some are looking at natural gas. There are states that are leading the way on solar or wind. All those kinds of energy choices and energy policies are important decisions and discussions for our country. What EPA's role is to do is to level the playing field so that pollution costs are not exported to the population but rather companies have to look at the pollution potential of any fuel or any process or any plant or any utility when they're making their investment decisions.
[ASSURAS] So when it comes to greenhouse gas emission restrictions, you've sent some draft regulations to the White House. You going to tell me what you proposed?
[JACKSON] I'm sorry, I cannot. "energyNOW!" will have to wait. Not now, maybe a little later.
[ASSURAS] Okay, Soon? But do the regulations mean that new coal plants would not be allowed to be built if they do not have carbon capture and storage capability?
[JACKSON] I can't tell you what the regulations say right now, but what we're planning to do is release them early next calendar year.
[ASSURAS] When do you think carbon capture and storage will become commercially viable? The DoE has supported about half a dozen projects, not really going anywhere.
[JACKSON] Well, they are still on the books. We know some of them are in the permitting process and still planned. We've looked at sort of the status of those facilities, because, in part of the development of the rule, we have to know what's going on out there, so I continue to believe that there are going to be opportunities to invest in and try to perfect that technology. I don't know -- I know it can be years, maybe a decade or more, until we have a technology available at commercial scale. And it would be shortsighted or you'd have to have blinders on not to look at the fact that there are other game changers out there like our nation's supply of natural gas, that are going to be important as people look at where they want to make investment decisions. It's not EPA that's going to tell a utility, a power company, where to invest, but what EPA can do is say, here are the limits you're going to have to meet from an air or water perspective so you can make those determinations.
[ASSURAS] You can see more of my interview with Lisa Jackson on our Web site,
energyNOW! Anchor Thalia Assuras sits down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to discuss pressing energy and environmental issues, including the EPA study on hydraulic fracturing and upcoming greenhouse-gas regulations for power plants.
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