Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin fears the government could begin shutting down shale oil and gas production if the industry can't find a technological fix to address earthquakes related to fracking.
"People will shut it down for the sake of shutting it down, and we need this energy," the West Virginia lawmaker said Thursday during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on the U.S. Geological Survey.
The agency issued a report last week that said a heightened earthquake risk now exists for millions of people due to oil and gas production in shale regions, particularly Oklahoma.
Manchin, whose state sits atop the largest shale formation in the East but is not listed as an hazardous zone, is trying to wrap his head around what the Geological Survey's findings mean for top shale producers before the Environmental Protection Agency starts shutting down operations, he said.
"That's what I'm concerned about because people will just shut it down for the sake of shutting something down," Manchin said.
He said he has begun talks with the Energy Department's National Energy Technology Lab, which is in his state, to begin examining specific technological fixes to ensure against the seismic risks.
He would like to begin "working with EPA, before they start overreaching and shutting things down, making sure [producers] can comply. And do it safely and do it properly."
Manchin's office says he isn't trying to get ahead of regulations as much as he is attempting to ensure new drilling techniques are safe and can continue to be used. "His goal is to make sure we have the proper research to continue to use this technology safely," said Manchin spokeswoman Katey McCutcheon. "He wants to ensure that the research being done is headed in a direction that will lead to solutions."
"I think every state is a little bit different here on this," he said. "And before you know it it's going to have a snowball effect, and we're going to have an energy shortage," the senator said.
Geological Survey Director Suzette Kimball said her agency has no authority to regulate how drillers operate to avoid seismic issues, but said she would be willing to work with Manchin on the technical areas of evaluating operations in his state.
Kimball clarified that most manmade earthquakes caused by drilling aren't due to the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The quakes are caused by the process used to get rid of the excess water used in the process, called wastewater injection.
"Our work on reduced seismicity leads us to believe that it is most often associated with deep wastewater injection wells," Kimball said.
Manchin said the industry is able to "minimize almost all risk."