Lawmakers Probe Health and Environmental Impacts of Gas Drilling Boom

Senate scrutinizes controversial industry practice as House committee postpones its hearing


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 235

In a hearing today, lawmakers on Capitol Hill probed the health and environmental impacts of a gas drilling boom fueled by a controversial gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing. In hydraulic fracturing, companies blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to force natural gas from underground deposits.

The practice is currently exempted from parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Oil and gas companies also get special treatment under the Clean Air Act. 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.

Today’s hearing, titled “Natural Gas Drilling: Public Health and Environmental Impacts,” was convened by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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.

The House Science, Space, and Technology committee was originally scheduled to hold a hearing of its own this week, titled “Review of Hydraulic Fracturing Technology and Practices.” But the hearing was postponed yesterday with little notice.

The following is a statement from Earthjustice Legislative Associate Jessica Ennis:

“The country is in the midst of an unprecedented gas drilling boom—brought on by the controversial technology known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Along with this fracking-fueled gas rush have come troubling reports of poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths, industrial disasters and explosions.

“Given the tremendous risks facing Americans, we’re encouraged that leaders in the Senate are taking the time to study this issue.

“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.

“Drillers are clamoring for access to regions of the country that are unprepared for this scale of industrial gas drilling. Without a federal floor to protect drinking water in states without sufficient regulations, we could end up jeopardizing air and water supplies for millions of people.

“As we heard in this morning’s hearing, there are serious 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.

“Bills pending before Congress would remove the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act loopholes. Congress needs to pass this legislation and quickly. The millions of Americans whose drinking water and air quality is at stake don’t have time to waste.”

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