Supporters of the natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are feeling pretty confident since the mid-term elections. According to a report from MSNBC, the Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives, along with big GOP victories in several gas drilling states, make it less likely that fracking will be subjected to federal regulation in the near future.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act â€“ deemed by fracking opponents the â€œHalliburton Loophole.â€ As a result, frackers donâ€™t have to disclose the chemicals that make up their fracking fluids.
Recently, one study conducted by Theo Colburn, PhD, the director of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange in Paonia, Colorado, has identified 65 chemicals that are probable components of the injection fluids used by frackers. These chemicals included benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All of these chemicals have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Environmentalists are concerned that these chemicals could make their way into groundwater, and they point to various instances of water contamination in fracking states like Pennsylvania and Wyoming where chemicals used in the drilling process have turned up in water wells.
Up until now, momentum seemed to be building in support of federal regulation of fracking. Among other things, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently embarked on a large study to investigate the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic drilling, and environmentalists were hoping that could ultimately lead to better regulation.
But now that progress is in jeopardy. One day after the November 2 mid-term elections, at the DUG East gas drilling industry conference in Pittsburgh, Karl Rove, former White House Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush, gleefully reassured the assembled drillers that they no longer had to worry about the prospect of federal oversight. Regulation of fracking, Rove said, would remain the responsibility of the states.
But even at the state level, the promise of better regulation seems in jeopardy. According to MSNBC, in the Marcellus shale state of Pennsylvania, Republican Governnor-elect Tom Corbett is far friendlier to the industry than his predecessor. Corbett received more than $1 million in donations from natural gas drillers, and it looks like that money was well spent. He is firmly opposed to any attempt to slap a gas-extraction tax on the industry, which means Pennsylvania will remain the largest gas-drilling state without such a tax. Corbett has also promised to lift an existing order that prevents further leasing of state lands to gas drillers. This week, Corbett named Christine Toretti, a national GOP committeewoman and owner of a Pennsylvania drilling company, as co-chair of his transition team.
Not every state gave frackers what they wanted on Election Day, however. In New York, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has signaled that he will not allow any new drilling in the Marcellus shale there unless it is proven safe.
“If it were safe, if the watersheds were protected and it would create jobs, great. But you need the facts. And we don’t have the facts,” Cuomo said yesterday morning during a TV interview. “We have a lot of emotion, but we don’t have the facts. And I would not do anything until the facts are determined by bona fide studies.”
In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The stateâ€™s Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The state has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking.