Having been apparently unsuccessful in their quest to obtain information on hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) from well service companies, the House Energy and Commerce Committee officials now are looking to producers to provide data on the potential impacts of the well stimulation technique on human health and the environment.

In February committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) opened an inquiry into the risks associated with hydrofracing of unconventional natural gas resources (see Daily GPI, Feb. 19). They sent letters to eight companies engaged in hydrofracing around the country -- Halliburton, BJ Services and Schlumberger, as well as Frac Tech Services, Superior Well Services, Universal Well Services, Sanjel Corp. and Calfrac Well Services -- asking them to identify the types and quantities of chemicals used in hydrofracing fluids. In May they sent letters to six additional oil and gas service companies.

"In their responses these [service] companies identified well operators [the producers], rather than well service companies, as the entities most likely to maintain data on the proximity of specific wells to underground sources of drinking waters. Similarly, the well services companies directed us to the well operators, such as your company, for information on the recovery and disposal of fluids and water that flow back to the surface of wells that have been hydraulically fractured," Waxman and Markey wrote in letters Monday.

The letters were sent to 10 producers: Encana Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp., BP America, Southwestern Energy, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy Corp., EOG Resources, EQT Corp. and ExxonMobil Corp. The letters requested detailed data on the producers' hydrofracing practices. 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.

Separately last week, Range Resources told regulators in Pennsylvania that it would voluntarily disclose the chemicals in hydrofracing fluids it uses in the Marcellus Shale (see Daily GPI, July 15).

Markey chairs the House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, which is conducting the actual inquiry. Specifically the producers were asked to provide the subcommittee with documents and information related to the inquiry, including:

Producers were asked to supply the subcommittee with documents and related information by Aug. 6., and to notify it by July 26 on whether they will comply with the request on a voluntary basis.

Waxman and Markey are known for their anti-producer views. Their inquiry, if it finds that hydrofracing is polluting the drinking water, would provide support for efforts in Congress to regulate hydrofracing at the federal level under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The oil and gas industry is the only industry exempted from the SDWA. Presently hydrofracing activities are regulated by the states.

Environmental organizations, public health groups and local communities have expressed concerns about the potential impact of the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids in wells located in or near underground sources of drinking water. Others have raised concerns about the quantity of water needed to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells and the disposal of contaminated wastewater from fracturing operations.

Legislation restricting hydrofracing could shut down production from the country's prolific shale plays, including the Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville and Marcellus plays, producers told Congress last year (see Daily GPI, June 10, 2009).

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