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Polis, DeGette, Hinchey Introduce FRAC Act to Ensure Safe Drilling of Natural Gas

Bill Calls for Reasonable Regulation to Protect Nation’s Drinking Water

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Washington, March 15, 2011 | comments

Today, U.S. Reps. Jared Polis (CO-2), Diana DeGette (CO-1), and Maurice Hinchey (NY-22) introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), a bill that provides for reasonable regulation of the natural gas drilling technique known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking.” Fracking is a process used in almost all oil and natural gas drilling, whereby fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open to increase efficiency of the wells.  Fracking fluids often contain highly toxic chemicals which may contaminate drinking water, yet are not identified to the public.  The FRAC Act would address concerns regarding fracking by removing the oil and gas industry’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act (received in the 2005 Energy bill) and requiring disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluids.

“There is a growing discrepancy between the natural gas industry’s claim that nothing ever goes wrong and the drumbeat of investigations and personal tragedies which demonstrate a very different reality,” said Rep. Polis.  “The FRAC Act is a simple, common sense way to answer the serious concerns that accompany the rapid growth of drilling across the country.  Our bill restores a basic, national safety-net that will ensure transparency within the industry and safeguard our communities.  If there is truly nothing to worry about, then this bill will lay the public’s concern to rest through science and sunlight.”

“As we recognize the need for energy independence and alternative sources to power our nation, natural gas is an important economic driver and a critical bridge fuel,” said Rep. DeGette. “However, it is incumbent upon us to ensure the process for extracting natural gas from our land is done safely and responsibly.  The FRAC Act takes necessary but reasonable steps to ensure our nation’s drinking water is protected, and that as fracking operations continue to expand, communities can be assured that the economic benefits of natural gas are not coming at the expense of the health of their families.

"While the natural gas industry would like to pretend that the current regulatory framework is sufficient to protect the environment, drinking water and public health, scores of citizens throughout the country are telling a different story," said Rep. Hinchey. "We need to know exactly what chemicals are being injected into the ground and we must ensure that the industry is not exempt from basic environmental safeguards like the Safe Drinking Water Act. The FRAC Act is an important first step toward ensuring that people are protected from the risks of hydraulic fracturing."

Over the past decade, the use of fracking has expanded exponentially, as natural gas continues to be regarded as a critical bridge fuel on a path to energy independence for our nation.  In the next several years that trend is expected to continue.  Since 1999, over 90% of the natural gas wells have used fracking to increase their efficiency.  Even low concentrations of the chemicals used in fracking – like benzene and diesel fuel – may lead to severe health and environmental consequences.  A number of cases have been reported around the country whereby residents and workers have become ill or groundwater was found to be contaminated after operations began in their communities, including in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Wyoming, Alabama and Ohio.

In recent months, disturbing evidence has been revealed to the public demonstrating that millions of gallons of diesel fuel have been pumped into the ground in fracking operations across the country, and that the inability to properly process wastewater from fracking, may be leaching radioactive materials into rivers, streams, and the drinking water supply.

Specifically the FRAC Act would:

  • Require disclosure of the chemical constituents used in the fracturing process, but not the proprietary chemical formula.
    • The proprietary chemical formulas are protected under our bill – much like the way Coca-Cola must reveal the ingredients of Coke, but not their secret formula; oil and gas companies would have to reveal the chemicals but not the specific formula.
    • Disclosure would be to the state, or to EPA, but only if EPA has primary enforcement responsibility in the state.  The disclosures would then be made available to the public online
    • This bill does include an emergency provision that requires these proprietary chemical formulas to be disclosed to a treating physician, the State, or EPA in emergency situations where the information is needed to provide medical treatment.
  • Repeal a provision added to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempting the industry from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), one of our landmark environmental and public health protection statutes. 
    • Most states have primacy over these types of wells, and the intent of this Act is to allow states to ensure that our drinking water is safe.  EPA would set the standard, but a state would be able to incorporate hydraulic fracturing into the existing permitting process for each well, and so this would not require any new permitting process.

Today’s House introduction of the FRAC Act coincides with the simultaneous introduction of the Senate version.

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