House Democrats urge stronger Interior Dept. rules for fracking on federal land

House Democrats urge stronger Interior Dept. rules for fracking on federal landHouse Democrats urge stronger Interior Dept. rules for fracking on federal landDemocrats in the House of Representatives have urged the Obama administration to enforce stricter regulations on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling for natural gas on federal lands.

According to a Reuters report, a group of 38 House Democrats have urged the President and regulators to improve upon proposed Interior Dept. rules for conducting fracking drilling on federal land. The rules were recently drafted that would allow drilling for natural gas deposits among underground shale formations. The rules were necessary to compensate for weak regulations in place that have allowed a fracking boom to develop in parts of the country, specifically the Mid Atlantic region, that’s sparked a rise in natural gas production and a drop in its price.

The lawmakers say would-be drillers on federal lands should be required to disclose all the chemicals and other agents they’ll use at an active well site. Lax regulations in place and those proposed by the Interior Dept. do not call for the full disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process. This has been a sticking point in localized fights over the allowance of fracking wells to be opened. 

Companies conducting fracking drilling use a loophole that allows for the protection of “trade secrets” to hide from public disclosure the most toxic and dangerous agents used in the drilling process. Fracking employs the use of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, a drill, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals that are rushed through an underground well until it reaches underground shale beds. The rock is blasted apart, releasing natural gas deposits. The drilling fluid and gas are rushed back to the surface where it is all to be collected, stored, and eventually refined.

The House Democrats effort was marked by a letter to the Interior Dept. It was authored by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Raúl Grijalva, according to Reuters. It calls into question the Interior Dept.’s seemingly weak requirement that fracking chemicals only be disclosed after drilling has commenced. The Democrats would like that extended to include activity prior to drilling.

Critics of the fracking process believe there are at least 60 known toxins used before and during drilling. Fracking is believed to create fractures underground that allows this toxic drilling fluid to infiltrate groundwater that can lead to the contamination of private water wells. People living within a mile of an active fracking well are most at risk of experiencing fracking-related contamination. Those who believe fracking has contaminated their water have toxic amounts of methane gas, benzene, and other toxins that are believed to be used in the process. The problem has been tying those toxins to wells, mostly because drillers do not have to disclose these agents, hiding them as “trade secrets.”

The Interior Dept. argues that requiring the disclosure of chemicals prior to drilling could create unnecessary delays in natural gas production.

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