Washington, DC – As the House Natural Resources Committee holds hearings on reforms to the nation's oil and gas program, more than 160 community and national organizations across the country signed on to a letter of support for passage of legislation that would protect drinking water from the growing impacts of hydraulic fracturing, a process used in most natural gas drilling projects.
The coalition held a teleconference today in conjunction with the letter announcement and hearing. (Click the audio document below to hear the teleconference.)
"When it comes to the public's health, it is not unreasonable to require the oil and gas industry to disclose the toxic chemicals they use in our local communities," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). "The oil and gas industry has one of the only exceptions under the Safe Drinking Water Act that frees them from federal oversight and disclosure. With people getting sick from contaminated water sources potentially due to frac'ing, the public’s safety is paramount."
Rep. DeGette introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (or "FRAC Act") in the House with Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the bill in the Senate.
"While hydraulic fracturing has been used for decades, the chemicals used in this process are known toxins that inherently present risks to drinking water supplies," said Rep. Hinchey. "Natural gas drilling certainly has its place as part of a comprehensive energy plan, but it must be done in a way that does not jeopardize public health and put the environment at risk for decades and centuries to come."
Although the oil and gas industry has consistently alleged potential economic consequences of the proposed regulations, a recent economic critique of industry publications conducted by ECONorthwest detailed fundamental flaws in these allegations.
The critique, commissioned by Natural Resources Defense Council, found that the industry reports fail to consider the wide range of alternatives for implementing the proposed regulations, including ways that could reduce costs and increase benefits. They also ignore the economic benefits of the proposed regulations and grossly exaggerate the economic costs of the proposed regulations. The authors concluded: "The errors contained in the three reports are serious enough to render their findings untenable from an economic perspective." The critique is available online here.
"Developing energy and protecting the environment is not an either/or scenario,” said NRDC’s Amy Mall. “We strongly believe clean solutions are readily available, economical, and sometimes even profitable for industry. The FRAC Act is a common sense approach, especially when drinking water and human health are at risk."
New polling from the Western Organization of Resource Councils demonstrates that voters in Montana and Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District strongly support the sort of increased water protection that the act would provide. The polling, available at www.worc.org, shows that voters favor regulating hydraulic fracturing and protecting all bodies of water from pollution under the Clean Water Act.
"As we continue to produce oil and gas throughout the Rockies, in Texas and Arkansas and now in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York, we need to put in place the safeguards for our communities and the water they depend on," said Bruce Baizel, senior staff attorney with Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project, based in Durango, Colorado. "If we don’t, 10 to 15 years of natural gas production to leave us with a lifetime legacy of contaminated water."
According to Baizel, recent state hearings in Colorado revealed that the oil and gas industry has caused more than 300 instances of contaminated water in Colorado since 2003 and more than 700 instances in New Mexico, and no one has thoroughly investigated whether contamination is linked to hydraulic fracturing. Citizens in other states are also increasingly impacted and concerned that state regulations, investigations and response to complaints are not sufficient. For example, at Louis and Donna Meeks's farm in the Pavillion, Wyoming area, where EnCana Oil and Gas operates the Pavillion/Muddy Ridge gas field, the Center for Disease Control has advised the Meeks not to use water from their contaminated drinking water well.
"My water well has been contaminated, and I believe it's because EnCana drilled and fracked gas wells close to my well," said Louis Meeks. "The state has done nothing but watch, while EnCana contaminated the ground water where we get our drinking water. EnCana ruined my well and now that they can’t fix it, they've walked away. That's why we need federal oversight."
"With increasing concern about climate change, it's clear that natural gas is positioned to play a significant role in the nation's energy picture," said The Wilderness Society’s Dave Alberswerth. "But we need to improve the way natural gas is currently developed, so it doesn’t pollute water supplies and our atmosphere or damage wildlife habitat. Natural gas will not be a viable 'bridge fuel' from a health and environment perspective until we factor in the true environmental cost of its development and begin to use safe, twenty-first century technologies."
Environment Colorado Advocate Matt Garrington echoed concerns about protecting drinking water. "Water is a precious and scarce resource in the West and something we cannot afford to squander," said Garrington. "Allowing gas fracking to move forward without proper safeguards for drinking water is unconscionable."
- Fracking background: http://wilderness.org/content/pr-energy-20090916
- Info on frack fluids: http://www.earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=401
- Hydraulic Fracturing myths and facts: http://www.earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=402