EARTHWORKS

Can we trust the frackers to set the limits? 160 organizations say "NO".

Jennifer Goldman's avatar
By Jennifer Goldman

September 18, 2009

Yesterday, the House Natural Resources Committee held the second of two hearings on Chairman Nick Rahall's bill H.R. 3534, the "Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act", which contains a number of modest reforms to the federal government's oil and gas programs.

The oil and gas industry, all too predictably, can be expected to fire back that any reform directed at their business is unnecessary, prohibitively costly to this multi-billion dollar industry, and could severely limit our nation's gas supplies.

Yesterday, the House Natural Resources Committee held the second of two hearings on Chairman Nick Rahall's bill H.R. 3534, the "Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act", which contains a number of modest reforms to the federal government's oil and gas programs.

The oil and gas industry, all too predictably, can be expected to fire back that any reform directed at their business is unnecessary, prohibitively costly to this multi-billion dollar industry, and could severely limit our nation's gas supplies.

As our nation continues to come to grips with our addiction to filthy, finite fossil fuels it is important that this development be done as responsibly as possible, or "done right." As we continue to produce oil and gas throughout the Rockies, in Texas, Arkansas and now in Pennsylvannia, West Virginia and New York, we need to put in place safeguards for our communities and the water they depend on so that 10 - 15 years of natural gas production does not leave us with a lifetime legacy of contaminated water. "Doing it right" means that we protect our water, our air, our communities. It means that we support only the best oil and gas field practices and that we don't drill some areas.

One critical step towards "doing it right" that is currently on the table is the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act or "FRAC Act". This bill, H.R. 2766, and the bill's counterpart, S.1215, do two things: they require public disclosure of chemical constituents used in hydraulic fracturing and brings hydraulic fracturing back under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Why is this legislation necessary and ripe for passage now? Citizens in oil and gas field communties have been voicing concerns for years about water quality and quantity issues related to nearby fracturing operations. Additionally, three main issues have caused this bill to resonant widely. First, as our communities are becoming more aware of water's finiteness, we are becoming more protective of this precious resource. Second, we are being asked to trust one of the most profitable and powerful industries in the country. Our experiences in their deny, block and delay tactics, and the growing instances of contaminated water, tells us to beware of trusting this industry without proper regulations in place. And finally, more and more we are seeing signs of the pervasiveness of chemicals all around us and their impacts on our children.

Protecting our water from oil and gas extraction is resonating so widely with the public that today the Natural Resources Defense Council released a letter from 160 organizations in more than 30 states that call on Congress to support and pass the FRAC Act. These groups are not only national, organizations, but regional, state and local organizations, that represent conservation, faith, sportsmen and civic interests in their communities. Further, the Western Organization of Resource Councils just released information showing that voters in Montana and Colorado's 3rd district strongly support protecting water from pollution.

Colorado has shown leadership in revising its oil and gas rules and is the first state to require chemical inventories. However, Colorado's disclosure rule will not help landowners identify chemicals to be used in the gas well next door. Nor would the rule help an emergency responder who needed immediate access to which chemicals were in the fluids that drenched a worker. Absent that information, medical responders could end up as Durango's Cathy Behr did, in the emergency room not knowing the long-term effects of the contamination.

This is why many of us who have lived with oil and gas development (like those of us in Colorado and Montana) and those of us who are about to (in NY and regions of the Marcellus) are voicing our support and working on this issue.

Tagged with: hydraulic fracturing, fracking, frac act

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