In a hearing, today, lawmakers on Capitol Hill probed the health and environmental impacts of a gas drilling boom fueled by the controversial gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Using this technique, companies blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to force natural gas from underground deposits.
In recent years, oil and gas companies have begun clamoring for access to regions of the country that are unprepared for this scale of industrial gas drilling. Along with this fracking-fueled gas rush have come troubling reports of poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths, industrial disasters and explosions.
Hydraulic fracturing is currently exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, so oil and gas companies are only required to comply with a patchwork of state regulations. And thanks to a loophole in the Clean Air Act for oil and gas companies, drilling areas in Wyoming now have worse air quality than Los Angeles.
Members of both chambers of Congress have introduced pieces of legislation that would close these industry loopholes – called the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act and the Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effects (BREATHE) Act. (Are your members of Congress a co-sponsor of these important pieces of legislation? If not, they should be. Ask them here.)
The hearing comes one day after Cornell University researches announced a study finding that the climate change impacts of gas produced from fracking are as bad or worse than coal. That’s bad news for an industry that’s billed itself as a clean alternative to coal. As a blogger at the typically sympathetic-to-industry outlet Reuters argues: the gas industry can’t survive without some shred of green cred.
A major point raised in the hearing were the implications of inadequate wastewater treatment oversight — particularly in Pennsylvania, where gas drillers are generating contaminated water faster than the state’s treatment plants can handle it, and companies are dumping insufficiently treated fracking wastewater directly into rivers and streams.
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg made the argument for federal standards to protect drinking water, saying “Water doesn’t recognize state boundaries,” and that people (like say in New Jersey) shouldn’t be punished for lax fracking regulations in neighboring states (ahem, Pennsylvania).
So true. As this fracking protester in New York pointed out yesterday on her sign. There is no alternative to water.