The House Friday voted out a spending bill that calls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to examine the risks of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) to the nation’s drinking water.

The appropriations measure, which cleared the House by 254 to 173, provides $32.25 billion in funding for the Interior Department, EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for fiscal year (FY) 2010, up from $27.65 billion for FY 2009.

In addition to targeting hydrofracing, the bill levies a new fee ($2,000 to $6,000 per facility per year) for inspections of offshore oil and gas facilities, amounting to $10 million annually to partially offset the cost of the inspection program. And it defers $50 million annually for research related to oil and gas production in the ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. None of the provisions affecting oil and gas operators are found in the Senate’s $32.1 billion spending bill for Interior-EPA-FWS, which the Senate Appropriations Committee passed last Thursday.

If the Senate does not add the hydrofracing language on the floor, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who sponsored the measure in the House, “remains confident” that it will be included during conference, said spokesman Jeff Lieberson.

The House bill would close the loophole that exempts hydrofracing from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA), which seeks to protect the public water supply from toxic contamination. The oil and gas industry is the only industry exempted from complying with the SDWA.

Producers contend that hydrofracing does not harm public drinking water and that stripping them of this exemption would stunt natural gas production, particularly from shale gas plays.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 clarified that hydrofracing was not intended to be regulated under the SDWA. Hydrofracing involves the injection of fluids into wells at extremely high pressures to crack open underground formations and stimulate the flow of oil and gas. More than 90% of oil and gas wells in the United States employ hydraulic fracturing.

Hinchey proposed the measure one month after he asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson during an appropriations subcommittee hearing about the need to study hydrofracing. She indicated at the time that she believed the EPA should review the risks posed to drinking water in light of various cases across the country that raised questions about the safety of the production process (see NGI, May 21).

A 2004 EPA study, which Hinchey claims was biased in favor of the oil and gas industry, concluded that hydrofracing is not a threat to public drinking water.

Hinchey joined two other House Democrats earlier this month in introducing a bill that would require oil and natural gas producers to disclose to the EPA the chemicals they use in their hydrofracing processes (see NGI, June 15).

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