Turning Up the Heat: Congress Revives Effort to End Fracking Exemption


You’ve got to love it when congressional “reform” leaves you asking: “That’s not already being done?” In a dubious case of “better late than never,” we may finally have the momentum to get something done on fracking regulation.

Federal lawmakers, nearly all Democrats, are reviving an effort to: (A) End a 2004 exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act; and (B) Make drillers disclose what chemicals they use in the fracking process. That’s it, just follow the law like everybody else, and tell us what you’re injecting into the ground. Sounds simple, but, of course, the drilling industry is up in arms.

The push for regulation is coming from states hard-hit by fracking, with U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and two Colorado representatives, Diane DeGette and Jared Polis leading on the House side and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) resuming his efforts in the upper chamber. It’s worth noting that Rep. Polis pushed for legislation like this last year but the bill didn’t make it out of committee. But that was before an Oscar-nominated film and a landmark New York Times series helped push the “fracking problem” onto the national stage.

The chemical recipe is important because industry officials would lead you to believe that they use high-pressure water to flush out the gas – but they actually use a mixture of water, sand and chemicals designed to break up the shale and free the gas while leaving “fill” material that keeps the rock from blocking the flow. We already know the fracking process produces radioactive material that impacts the environment (e.g., drinking-water sources) and human health. The chemicals being injected into the ground are another part of the extraction process that needs to be addressed, and sooner rather than later.

Federal action is also important because, across fracking-targeted areas of the country, local and state lawmakers are introducing a variety of bans and other measures in an attempt to slow the onslaught. But Congress deciding to simply exempt fracking from one of our major environmental regulatory laws will make those local responses much more difficult.

It’s also a difficult political debate for oil and gas industry supporters, because they can’t answer a simple question: If it’s as harmless as you say, and the chemicals aren’t harmful, then why the hell do you require exemption from the law and why won’t you tell us what chemicals you use?

I would also note that this issue has moved to the very top of the environmental agenda. The alternative weeklies, like Westword in Denver, have begun to focus on fracking and that means it will remain in the spotlight even when the national media moves onto the Next Big Eco-Thing.

Here’s a good Post-Gazette story on the Senate bill: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11074/1132067-454.stm#ixzz1Gx3PSFDz

Here’s a good Westword (Denver) story on the Colorado twosome and the House effort: http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2011/03/jared_polis_diana_degette_fracking_bill.php

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • Maybe Hollywood is not so wrong after all. Seems like it would help vent any seismic activity. Would it be a good way to make two continents out of one?

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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