WASHINGTON - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., and House Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman, D–Cal., today wrote to Energy Bill Conference Chairmen Domenici and Tauzin urging them to remove a provision from the Energy Bill that exempts hydraulic fracturing from drinking water protections. Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used in natural gas production to increase well production. It involves injecting a fluid under pressure through a wellbore in order to create and preserve fractures in reservoir rock. The high-pressure fluid exceeds the rock strength and opens a fracture in the rock, allowing petroleum products to flow more readily. Diesel fuel is a common fluid used in hydraulic fracturing, despite the fact that water-based solutions are available. The members expressed grave concerns about this section from public health, environmental, and legal perspectives. * Without protections, hydraulic fracturing fluids, which often include diesel fuel, may contain toxic and carcinogenic materials. Residents in multiple states have reported problems with oily water coming from their faucets and methane-contaminated wells. * Two existing 11th Circuit court decisions call for the regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. * EPA studies cited as determinative evidence of no negative impact from hydraulic fracturing are based on existing work performed by state oil and gas commissions - EPA did not conduct any sampling. Recently released documents show that in May of 2001, EPA Administrator Whitman wrote to Vice President Cheney stating of the proposal to exempt all hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act, "...before the study is completed, we are potentially walking into a trap because we don't yet know the environmental consequences of the broader exemption, or why it is needed." The EPA study was released for public comment, but has not yet been finalized. Jeffords said, "Every day each one of us and our families drink water, bathe, cook and swim in water from our faucets. We should not put Americans at risk by permitting the potential contamination of drinking water sources for the benefit of the oil and gas industry." "We enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure that all Americans have safe and healthy water to drink," said Rep. Waxman. "Obviously there's a contamination risk when diesel fuel, which contains carcinogens and other toxics, is injected into underground drinking water sources. This provision would take away EPA's authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing that could threaten drinking water sources. The energy bill is full of give-aways to the oil and gas industry - but this one isn't just your tax-dollars. This giveaway puts your drinking water at risk and potentially your health." Other members of Congress who signed this letter include Senators Lieberman, Corzine, Sarbanes, Lautenberg, Leahy, Durbin, Wyden and Clinton and Representatives Markey, Pallone, Solis, Rush, and Capps. The following is a copy of the letter: October 21, 2003 Chairman Domenici
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
364 Dirksen Building
Washington, DC 20510 Chairman Tauzin
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515 Dear Chairmen Domenici and Tauzin: We are writing to you regarding section 12201 of H.R. 6, the House version of the Energy Bill. This section modifies section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to exempt hydraulic fracturing from underground injection regulations that protect drinking water sources. We have grave concerns about this section from public health, environmental, and legal perspectives. First, there are potentially serious consequences for drinking water quality in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs. In many cases, the fracturing fluids being pumped into ground water may contain toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 1998 Environmental Impact Statement lists the hazardous substances potentially used as gelling agents in fracturing such as benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylenes, napthalene, methanol, sodium hydroxide, and MTBE. Residents in Alabama, Colorado, and New Mexico have reported problems with oily water coming from their faucets and methane-contaminated wells. Section 12201 of H.R. 6 would exempt the practice of hydraulic fracturing from protections under the SDWA. The SDWA has not been reauthorized since 1996. Changes of the magnitude proposed by this language should not be adopted without a full hearing and due consideration. Second, this section overturns two court decisions. In 1997, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding regulation of hydraulic fracturing in Alabama, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane wells is "underground injection" and must be regulated under the SDWA. The Court ruled that by January 2000, US EPA either had to require Alabama to regulate hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane production wells or assume full responsibility for the Alabama SDWA section 1425 Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. In December 1999, US EPA approved Alabama's revised section 1425 program with hydraulic fracturing regulations. In January 2000 the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation brought another suit against US EPA, claiming that the regulations on hydraulic fracturing should follow the more stringent SDWA 1422 program. On December 21, 2001, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the SDWA can be accomplished using the more flexible oil and gas injection regulatory provisions under SDWA section 1425, rather than the more stringent requirements under SDWA section 1422. Section 1422 strongly discourages, but, in limited circumstances, may allow injection into underground sources of drinking water by Class II wells, and requires EPA to establish strict and detailed regulations for such wells. Section 1425 allows states to establish their own oil and gas injection control programs, as long as they meet the flexible test of being "an effective program to prevent underground injection which endangers drinking water sources". Finally, advocates of hydraulic fracturing cite an EPA study that is currently in draft form, which suggests that there is little risk of water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing as support for their position. However, the EPA did not actually test any groundwater to reach these findings, but instead relied on existing work performed by state oil and gas commissions. Moreover, EPA requested public comment on the draft study, but the Agency has not yet finalized it. In light of the significant risk to public health and the legal issues involved, we urge you to delete section 12201 from the conference report. Sincerely,