Congressional effort renewed for open records on fracking

A revived attempt to increase disclosure and regulation pertaining to hydraulic fracturing is intended to bring about responsible natural gas development, its backers say.

Sponsors of newly reintroduced U.S. House and Senate bills say natural gas is an important source of energy and jobs in the country. One sponsor, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., this week also introduced a second bill designed to provide job training, so fracturing and other gas development jobs go to residents of his state rather than workers from elsewhere.

“Natural gas drilling offers Pennsylvania tremendous economic opportunities if we do it right,” Casey said in a news release.

U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both Colorado Democrats, are among the principal House sponsors of what’s called the FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act, which failed to get a committee hearing in two previous Congresses.

Hydraulic fracturing entails the high-pressure pumping of water and other substances into wells to crack open formations and release oil and gas. The bill would require public disclosure of those substances, which can include toxic chemicals that have prompted fears of threats to domestic groundwater. The bill would protect the proprietary formulas of companies’ fracturing fluids, sponsors say.

They say it also would eliminate a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempted fracturing from Environmental Protection Agency regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Lee Fuller, executive director of the Energy In Depth industry group, said in a statement the bill is “based on fundamentally incorrect information.”

“Its backers say it’s meant to ‘restore’ EPA regulation over hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act, even though SDWA has never in its 37 years been used for that purpose,” Fuller said.

Polis said the bill responds to concerns related to fracturing.

“If there is truly nothing to worry about, then this bill will lay the public’s concern to rest through science and sunlight,” he said.

The measure comes as some people call for fracturing to be banned altogether, a position taken Wednesday by the advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

The process has been crucial in developing gas reserves in places such as western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, and now in emerging gas fields in numerous other states.

DeGette said natural gas “is an important economic driver and critical bridge fuel” in the transition to energy independence and alternative power sources but that it must be extracted safely.


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