The U.S. Senate energy bill, proposed by Senate Democrats, might mandate that those companies currently using the hydraulic fracturing technique to tap shale gas be required to disclose the chemicals used when drilling. According to Reuters, the bill can become effective as soon as 2012.
Hydraulic fracturing is now used in about 90 percent of U.S. gas and oil wells and involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface.
Critics of fracking have long been concerned about the chemicals used in the process. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers donâ€™t have to disclose what chemicals they use. According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.
Under the proposed bill, drillers will not be able to keep the chemicals they use in fracking a secret, a large issue given that these mixtures can be dangerous, allowing poisonous toxins into groundwater, noted Reuters. Environmentalists also say that fracking should not receive exemption under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Industry has resisted providing what they argue is proprietary information about the chemicals used, claiming fracking is safe and that regulators are aware of the chemicals involved, said Reuters. And, even though the proposal does not mandate release of specific formulas and fluid amounts, oil and gas operators are still fighting the move, wrote Reuters.
Lee Fuller, from Energy In Depth, a key group formed by independent drillers that promotes fracking said of the proposal that, “It has the potential to create a series of legal responsibilities that operators, and even service companies, might not be able to fulfill, especially under a scenario where our folks are asked to post information that doesn’t even belong to them,” quoted Reuters.
Others who agree with the practice of fracking claim that the measure in the Senate will ultimately reduce new fracking options as well as natural gas output, said Reuters. Fracking significantly increased U.S. gas production because it has enabled companies to drill for gas in the huge shale beds that can be found nationwide. Also, said Reuters, many are concerned, specifically residents who live near drilling sites and claim their well water is contaminated and their children and their farm animals have become ill.
One area of the country that is at the center of a fracking boom is the Marcellus shale, a region rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Maryland.
“Citizens need to be protected from the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing,” said Cathy Carlson, senior policy analyst from environmental group Earthworks, quoted Reuters.