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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.  

In a hearing on Capitol Hill May 11, Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee struggled to make the case against an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into the controversial gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) - a process in which oil and gas companies blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to extract the gas from underground deposits.

Considering the agency is already midway into its multi-year study, the move comes across as more than a little desperate. What is industry so scared of the American public finding out? If fracking isn’t dangerous, what does industry have to hide? And if fracking poses no threat to drinking water, why does industry need an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act?

All good questions. But those weren’t the questions committee Republicans were asking.

Instead, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) yelled about why the agency was even doing the study. After leaving to get a burger, he came back and yelled some more. At one point he even seemed to suggest that the EPA study wasn’t needed because not enough people have died to warrant an investigation. Yikes.

One message came across loud and clear. The oil and gas industry is running scared. They sense the tide of public opinion turning ever more against them. Increasingly, it seems the only people willing to speak up for them are the ones they’ve bought off – a point Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) proved perfectly when he forced the Republicans’ star witness Michael J. Economides to admit that the oil and gas industry pays him some $1 million a year (wonder how much of a bonus he got to sign his name to this glowing blog post in The Hill today?)

The hearing comes in the midst of yet another rough week for fracking boosters, both here and abroad. On Monday, Duke University researchers unveiled a peer-reviewed study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that finds high methane levels in ground water near where fracking has occurred. And today, France’s conservative-controlled lower house of parliament took the first legislative step toward approving a nationwide ban on fracking.

The question those of us fighting for common-sense protections need to be asking ourselves is: what antics can we expect next from an industry ever more on the defensive and desperate to maintain their above-the-law status?