The shale gas industry has made a habit of overstating fracking's benefits and understating its risks. It likes to point only to economic benefits, which are mostly isolated and temporary, while ignoring a rising number of reports of broken industry promises, harm to local communities, and air pollution and water contamination. Just recently, in Pavillion, Wyo., the Environmental Protection Agency found fracking chemicals in well water.
We cannot afford to ignore these reports. If we don't take steps to safeguard our water resources, air quality, and public health, the harm we would suffer would far outweigh the purported economic benefits associated with fracking.
That's why I authored a legislative provision that directed the EPA to undertake the first-ever comprehensive study of fracturing. Residents who live near drilling sites have reported severe illness, foul-smelling, dirty-looking water, livestock deaths, fish kills, and other environmental problems. This is the first attempt at an independent, unbiased scientific review of fracking, and it's long overdue.
I also introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act. This legislation simply requires the fracking industry to follow the same rules that every other industry must follow. It would eliminate the special exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act pushed through Congress by the Bush administration and require the public disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process. It's the minimum of what should be done. If fracking is as safe as the industry claims, then gas companies have nothing to fear from federal oversight. The industry's alarmed reaction only raises more questions.
Even though this federal law would be implemented by states and account for differences in geologic formations, the industry has rejected it. Why? Because the industry would prefer to rely on the very state regulators to whom they pay millions of dollars annually in permitting fees. We're already seeing what that relationship gets us. Pennsylvania levied fines on only 4 percent of drillers who violated the law. After one company in Pennsylvania contaminated drinking water for 16 homes, the fine was less than what the company earns in three hours. Amazingly, it was the largest fine ever levied.
We all know that the air we breathe and the water we drink don't respect state boundaries. That's why Congress passed laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The fracking industry should have to abide by those public health laws, just like everyone else.
About Maurice Hinchey U.S. Representative
Jon Olson Associate Professor in the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin
Daniel Simmons Director of State Affairs at the Institute for Energy Research
Chris Faulkner Founder, President, and CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas
Lee Fuller Vice President of Government Relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America