Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling should be governed by federal regulations because its pollution has no awareness of state boundaries.
That theory was entered into the record this week at a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform by a Cornell University scientist studying the effects of fracking pollution. According to a Bloomberg report on the hearing proceedings this week, Robert Howarth told the committee that because fracking’s pollution can travel across state lines through various means, regulating it should be the concern of the federal government.
Currently, state and local governments are acting in the place of lax federal regulations governing fracking drilling as thousands of wells are opened in a natural gas drilling boom affecting mostly the Mid Atlantic region of the U.S. A federal energy bill passed in 2005 allowed fracking drillers almost unchecked access to underground shale formations which could contain billions of dollars in natural gas reserves.
And while state and local regulations have attempted to prevent or at least curtail fracking drilling in some areas, if a neighboring municipality allows it, the concerned local government has no control over the pollution that’s invading their borders from other areas where drilling is allowed. This includes crossing state borders, such as the borders between Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where thousands of wells have been opened above the massive Marcellus shale formation.
Howarth’s testimony this week was not well-received by Republican leaders of the committee which have criticized Democrat efforts to curb drilling in the face of growing evidence that fracking drilling can pollute groundwater, underground aquifers, soil, and the air surrounding an active well. Republicans in Washington, D.C., believe fracking drilling could help alleviate the developing energy crisis in the U.S. and wean the country off foreign oil but Democrats, not wholly opposed to the process, believe that more regulations need to be passed to keep drillers in check and to protect the public health, especially to those living closest to wells.
Fracking is believed to cause contamination of groundwater and private water wells and many living closest to new wells believe they’re at risk of having their fresh water sources polluted beyond use with chemicals used or toxins produced during the process. Howarth said as much as 2 percent of the gas collected in the fracking process is released from a well into the air, causing even more problems.
The natural gas and drilling industries contend fracking is safe and effective and have scoffed at assertions that it is responsible for polluting air and water. Regulations passed by state and local governments have attempted to get these companies to disclose the chemicals used in the process and during well construction but so far, the industries have relied on federal regulations which allow them to hide the most dangerous elements in the process from the public, calling them “trade secrets.”
Howarth told the committee that the federal government must enhance the regulations concerning fracking drilling and require full disclosure on all the agents used in drilling and well construction.