Ever since Congress exempted the gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, regulation of the industry has been left up to individual states. According to a report on Stateline.org, some states regulate more aggressively than others.
Colorado and Wyoming for example, have demanded gas companies disclose the chemicals they use in fracking fluids. However, Colorado only has 15 full-time inspectors for 43,000 wells, or a ratio of 2,867 wells for each inspector, Stateline.org said.
In Pennsylvania, by contrast, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has 193 enforcement staff for more than 70,000 wells. Better than Colorado, but to conduct a statewide review of drilling, Pennsylvania inspectors would have to visit more than 300 wells per day.
Many environmentalists also worry about the cozy relationships between drillers and regulators in many states. Stateline.org points out that in many states, regulatory salaries are paid for by drilling permit fees, meaning that inspectorsâ€™ jobs may depend on the number of wells being drilled. And on top of that, the industry is a major political donor, and regularly lobbies the state regulatory bodies that oversee it. For instance, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, the national organization for state oil and gas regulators, regularly hosts conferences that are sponsored by energy firms doing business in their states.
And finally, there is always pressure to lessen regulations in the states. Gubernatorial candidates in New Mexico, New York and Colorado, for example, are advocating less regulation.
Gaps in state regulations are one reason environmentalists want to see the federal government regulate fracking. Some momentum does seem to be pointing that way. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just embarked on a major study to investigate the impact of fracking on health and the environment. In addition, the so-called FRAC Act, which is currently being considered in the US Congress, would eliminate the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act.