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EPW FACT OF THE DAY: Liberals Take Aim at Hydraulic Fracturing
June 12, 2009

Posted by: Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov  

As Ian Talley of the Dow Jones Newswire reports this week, U.S. lawmakers Tuesday unveiled a bill that “industry warns could prevent development of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas by putting regulation of a key production technique under federal oversight.” In EPACT 05, Senator Inhofe successfully included a provision to clarify that hydraulic fracturing was not to be regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  This was in response to a 2004 EPA report which concluded that hydraulic fracturing poses minimal threat to underground drinking water and that no further study of the issue was warranted. Current efforts to target hydraulic fracturing come from legislation introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and in the Senate, by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Fact: The regulation of oil and gas exploration and production activities, including hydraulic fracturing occurs at the state level.  The states have adopted comprehensive laws and regulations to provide for safe operations to protect the nation’s drinking water sources, and have trained personnel to effectively regulate oil and gas exploration and production. 

As Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, pointed out in the Oklahoman this week, hydraulic fracturing had been used in an estimated 1 million wells and had not posed any problems to drinking water. In fact, approximately 35,000 wells are hydraulically fractured annually in the United States and close to one million wells have been hydraulically fractured in the United States since the technique’s inception, with no known harm to groundwater.

Further, the Ground Water Protection Council has consistently found that states have adopted comprehensive laws and regulations to provide for safe operations to protect the nation’s drinking water sources as its report for the U.S. Department of Energy released May 28, 2009 reports. 

It is unclear how much support the proposal could get in Congress or from the White House. Prospects of the bill do look grim at this point as Tally reports that, “Pressed at a recent congressional hearing, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said her office would review the EPA's previous decisions not to push for federal regulation.”  Further, Talley writes that “Under Carol Browner, currently President Barack Obama's energy and climate czar, the EPA in the mid-1990s decided that federal regulation was unnecessary. ‘There is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing at issue has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water,’ Browner wrote in 1995 as head of the EPA in a letter rejecting federal oversight of a potentially precedent-setting case in Alabama.”

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