A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest
Concerns Over Hydraulic FracturingAs the United States moves toward a lower carbon future we can expect the current natural gas boom to grow. When natural gas is burned, it emits half of the greenhouse pollutants of coal. Gas is cheap and abundant in the United States, offering both energy security and an answer to climate change. The gas reserves are locked deep inside shale formations, however, and can only be reached by hydraulic fracturing, a technique with significant environmental risks.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a technique used to create fractures in rocks by pumping a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals into rock formations to extract natural gas. This process of natural gas development is widely used in areas above large shale gas formations, such as the Marcellus Shale in the Northeast United States and the Barnett Shale in Texas.
Shale gas formations are deep in the earth below fresh water aquifers used for drinking water, but the practice of fracking has still been linked to polluted and contaminated drinking water in many communities. Fracking requires the use of chemicals and a lot of water. If it is not done very carefully, “fracking fluids” can leak into groundwater.
In 2005, a clause in the Energy Policy Act amended the Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C 300h, to exempt from regulation “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.” The exemption is sometimes called the Halliburton amendment after the company that lobbied extensively for it. As a result, the government is not currently regulating the chemicals being pumped into the ground during the fracking process. States are not prohibited from setting standards for hydraulic fracturing, but only Alabama has adopted specific protections under court order.
Two bills (S. 1215 and H.R. 2766) introduced in the 111th Congress would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to eliminate the fracking exemption, thereby permitting states to adopt underground injections control programs under the Act. Ending this exemption is an essential first step to protecting groundwater from the hazards of fracking.
FCNL supports both S. 1215 and H.R. 2766. These bills would eliminate the exemption of hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act and require the natural gas industry to provide complete disclosure of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. They are a simple first step toward ensuring safe drinking water.
Passing legislation on hydraulic fracturing will be difficult in the upcoming 112th Congress, where we do not expect congressional leadership to make a priority to advance environmental regulation. It is possible however that the 112th Congress will consider energy legislation that facilitates development of this country’s gas resources. Communities currently affected by fracking need to help educate the rest of the county about the environmental dangers of this relatively new technique, so that gas can be developed under appropriate restrictions.
Ask your representative to co-sponsor legislation in the 112th Congress to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of the fracking chemicals being used. If natural gas is to become a larger part of the U.S. energy supply, the extraction process must be done in a transparent way that does not jeopardize access to safe drinking water.
More information on hydraulic fracturing:
New York Department of Environmental Conservation
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Energy Policy Act of 2005
PL 109-58 32
Library of Congress