* Regulators do not always sure about activity at well sites
* Hydraulic fracturing exempt from some regulations
* Regulators have "one hand tied behind their back"-lawmaker
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, Oct 9 U.S. regulators are having a
tough time keeping pace with rapidly expanding shale oil and gas
development, according to a report from a government watchdog
released on Tuesday.
Legal limitations and a lack of key data have hampered the
Environmental Protection Agency's oversight of shale production,
said the report from the Government Accountability Office,
Congress' non-partisan investigative arm.
"Officials at EPA reported that conducting inspection and
enforcement activities for oil and gas development from
unconventional reservoirs is challenging due to limited
information, as well as the dispersed nature of the industry and
the rapid pace of development," the report said.
Breakthroughs in horizontal drilling techniques and
hydraulic fracturing in recent years have unlocked massive oil
and gas reserves trapped in shale formations.
The surge in domestic drilling has raised concerns about
possible water and air pollution.
Both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger,
Governor Mitt Romney, have touted the shale boom on the campaign
trail, with Romney pledging to keep states in charge of most
The Obama administration has said that states are the
primary regulators of shale energy output, but the federal
government can offer a template for effective oversight.
Critics of shale oil and gas drilling have charged that
federal regulation of the practice is inadequate, especially
since hydraulic fracturing is exempted from certain EPA rules.
The report was requested by Democrats in the House of
Representatives and the Senate who have raised questions about
The GAO found that the EPA has difficulty investigating
water contamination cases because there is often no information
on the quality of water before drilling began to use for
The agency also said it does not always know where to
conduct inspections or enforce certain regulations because it
sometimes does not have information on what activities are going
on at well sites.
In some cases, the EPA must completely rely on companies to
identify themselves as subject to regulations, the GAO reported.
"Regulators have operated with one hand tied behind their
back for too long when it comes to the oil and gas industry,"
said Congressman Edward Markey, one of the lawmakers who
requested the report.
Markey and other lawmakers have pushed for legislation that
would expand federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing, a move
the industry has warned is unnecessary and could curb