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Producers Claim Hydrofracing Bills Unnecessary

Senate and House Democrats introduced bills last Tuesday that would require oil and natural gas producers to disclose to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) processes. Disclosure currently is required at the state level, but not all states enforce this, said a Capitol Hill aide.

Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania joined Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado, Maurice Hinchey of New York and Jared Polish of Colorado in offering the companion Senate and House bills, the FRAC ACT -- Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act. The bill would strip out a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which declared that hydrofracing was not intended to be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA), producers said.

The oil and gas industry is the only industry exempted from complying with the SDWA, according to sponsors of the legislation.

"Drilling for natural gas in the the Marcellus Shale across much of Pennsylvania is part of our future. I believe we have an obligation to develop that natural gas responsibly to safeguard the drinking water wells used by three million Pennsylvanians. We already have private wells contaminated by gas and fluids used in hydraulic fracturing," Casey said.

Hydrofracing, which is used in almost all oil and gas wells, is a process where fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open and increase the flow of fossil fuels. Some chemicals that are known to have been used in hydrofracing include diesel fuel, benzene and industrial solvents, the lawmakers said.

"It's not unreasonable to require these companies to disclose the chemicals they are using in our communities -- especially near our water sources. Our bill simply closes [a]...Bush-Cheney loophole by requiring the oil industry to follow the same rules as everyone else," DeGette said.

"It's time to fix an unfortunate chapter in the Bush administration's energy policy and close the 'Halliburton loophole' that has enabled energy companies to pump enormous amounts of toxins, such as benzene and toluene, into the ground that then jeopardize the quality of our drinking water," Hinchey agreed. DeGette and Hinchey introduced similar legislation during the 110th Congress.

Legislation restricting hydrofracing could shut down production from the country's prolific shale plays, producers told a House subcommittee earlier this month (see NGI, June 8).

"Hydraulic fracturing is absolutely essential to the development of the [Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville and Marcellus] plays," said Mike John, Chesapeake Energy Corp. vice president of corporate development and government relations. "We would not be able to produce natural gas without being able to frac those wells."

The bills would "scare away investment" in production, specifically shale, another source said.

The legislation introduced in the Senate and House would add an estimated $150,000 of compliance costs to every well, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API). If approved, the legislation would add a layer of unnecessary regulation and reduce drilling, the API said in testimony before the subcommittee.

"Despite allegations to the contrary, there is no confirmed evidence that hydraulic fracturing has resulted in the contamination of drinking water supplies," the API said. The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS) has said there are no documented cases of drinking water contamination caused by hydrofracing.

"Why is Rep. Diana DeGette so intent on overregulating hydraulic fracturing, when the EPA under both the Clinton and Bush administrations found it to be a safe and effective process with no documented cases of underground water contamination?" asked Kathleen Sgamma, IPAMS director of government affairs, who testified at a separate House subcommittee hearing last Tuesday. "She is ignoring the expertise of regulators from 30 states who do not want federal regulation of [fracing], and the Ground Water Protection Council, which has scientifically studied the issue for several years."

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