Fracking Regulation Comes Under Fire from Congressional Natural Gas Caucus

A group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are pressuring the US Department of Interior to back away from some proposed hydraulic fracturing regulations. The regulations would require drillers on public lands to disclose the chemical make-up of the fluids they use in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface to release gas deposits buried deep in shale. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act – deemed by fracking opponents the “Halliburton Loophole.” As a result, drillers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up their fracking fluids.

In November, the Interior Department announced it was weighing the new disclosure requirements and other regulations for drillers operating on federal lands during a one-day forum held to address fracking. According to an earlier report from the Houston Chronicle, fracking is used in nine out of 10 wells on public lands, but the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 250 million acres of public lands and 48,000 drilling leases, has not updated regulations for fracturing in years.

Now it appears the Interior Department’s intention to subject frackers on federal lands to more regulation has produced some blowback in Congress. According to a report from TheHill.com, 32 members of the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus wrote to Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday urging him to hold off on any new regulations until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completes a review of the environmental and health effects of fracking.

“As members of the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, we write to express our concerns about reports that the Department of the Interior may seek to impose new regulations on the natural gas extraction process on federal lands and urge you to not institute any new regulatory burdens before the completion of the 2010-2012 Environmental Protection Agency study on hydraulic fracturing,” states the letter from the group, led by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.).

The letter asserts that such regulations could increase energy costs, TheHill.com said, and it maintains that fracking is safe.

But environmentalists don’t share the Natural Gas Caucus’ contention that fracking is safe. According to a report from newsok.com, Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently wrote that the NRDC is not aware of even one scientific study showing it is safe.

Despite the Natural Gas Caucus’ attempt to quash any new rules from the Interior Department, there have been other efforts to regulate fracking on several fronts recently. Last fall, for instance, the EPA subpoenaed Halliburton Co., a major player in the industry, to force it to provide information about its fracking fluids, as part of its fracking study. Even Wyoming, a state long-friendly to the industry, now requires drillers to publicly disclose the contents of their drilling fluids.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, some drillers have begun to voluntarily disclose that information. In November, for example, ExxonMobil, the largest natural gas producer in the US, announced it was working with other producers to develop a framework under which companies will disclose the chemical composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

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