Rep. DeGette wants federal regulation over hydraulic fracturing of oil, gas wells

A Colorado congresswoman plans to renew her effort to seek federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, but U.S. Rep. John Salazar is undecided on whether to again support the concept.

Salazar, D-Manassa, had cosponsored previous legislation brought by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, in an attempt to address the drilling practice.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as frac’ing, involves sending water, sand and other constituents down a well under high pressure to crack open formations containing gas and oil. Salazar’s 3rd Congressional District is home to much of the drilling activity in the state.

DeGette and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., plan to reintroduce the legislation next week. It would repeal the oil and gas industry’s exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Salazar said in a statement Thursday that he is reviewing the legislation.

Salazar said he has spent his career fighting for water quality and water rights, and may again sign on as a cosponsor of the new bill.

“However, it remains our responsibility to find solutions that allow us to protect our groundwater while utilizing a resource that so many homes and businesses depend on,” he said.

Critics of hydraulic fracturing fear it could be endangering drinking water. The industry says fracturing is safe and there have been no documented cases of fracturing contaminating drinking water.

DeGette spokesman Kristofer Eisenla said there is anecdotal evidence of people getting sick from fracturing, but no reporting requirement to verify the cause.

“There’s cases like this across the country. We want to look at what’s in the chemicals in those (fracturing) processes,” he said.

Backers of the legislation point to accounts of possible links between sickness and fracturing in places such as Garfield and La Plata counties. Tara Meixsell, who lives near New Castle and is vice president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said the worry also is arising in Pennsylvania and New York because of increasing gas development in those states.

“It’s becoming an issue of concern to a larger audience across the country,” she said.

But the industry says the practice already is adequately regulated by states, and federal involvement would hamper the use of a technology essential to meeting the nation’s energy needs.

“Why bring in the federal government to over-regulate a procedure that has been safely managed by states for over 60 years?” Kathleen Sgamma of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said in a news release after a hearing on the issue Thursday by the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has passed new oil and gas rules that include a requirement that companies maintain an inventory of fracturing fluid substances that can be made available for state inspection.

Salazar said he hopes to meet with people including Carol Browner, who served as Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Clinton, to discuss the issue. Browner had argued against regulating fracturing.

“While the current regulatory approach may require revision, we need to recognize that developers also have legitimate concerns about maintaining their ability to extract this resource,” Salazar said.

Five counties in Salazar’s district — Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco, Las Animas and La Plata — were responsible for 4,497 of the record 8,027 drilling permits issued in Colorado last year.

Garfield alone accounted for 2,888 of those permits. Hydraulic fracturing has been essential to developing gas in the sandstone where gas is plentiful underground in Garfield County.


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