On Thursday, Congressional Democrats introduced a set of four bills aimed at countering the environmental harms from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the continuing shale gas rush.
Four Representatives — Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis of Colorado, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois — and one Senator, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, together announced the proposed legislation, dubbing the bills the “Frack Pack” and saying they were designed to roll-back loopholes in existing federal laws.
“Loopholes and exceptions written into the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act have kept landmark environmental laws from protecting the health and safety of individuals and families living in communities affected by fracking,” the members of Congress said in a joint statement. “By closing loopholes, the ‘Frack Pack’ bills would hold the energy industry to the same standards that apply to everyone.”
The first bill, titled Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effects or BREATHE, aims to address toxic air pollution from drilling and fracking by revoking a Clean Air Act exemption that has allowed drillers to dodge rules that apply to other industries.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Polis and Rep. Cartwright, would allow EPA to consider the cumulative pollution from an entire well site or gas field, rather than considering the emissions from each piece of equipment separately, when it decides whether a given site must follow the stricter air emission rules for larger polluters.
“One or two fracking pads might not make much of a difference. But you suddenly put thousands of them in a limited area, it has an enormous impact on air quality which is currently exempt from the Clean Air Act,” Rep. Polis told CBS News.
The next bill in the collection, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (or FRAC Act), was first introduced in the House by Rep. DeGette and in the Senate by Sen. Casey in 2009, and was re-submitted by both this year. It aims to close the so-called “Halliburton loophole,” which was added to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration, and would also require drillers to disclose chemicals used during fracking.
“This information will then be made public on a website,” Senator Casey’s office said in a statement. “Disclosure will ensure that if drinking water supplies, surface waters, or human health are compromised, the public and first responders will be properly informed.”
A third bill, dubbed the FRESHER Act (Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act) would address run-off from well pads and other oil and gas industry sites, which currently falls into a loophole in the Clean Water Act. Pennsylvania’s Rep. Cartwright also earlier sponsored a different bill that takes aim at the exemptions for the oil and gas industry in hazardous waste handling laws.
“Under current federal law, oil and gas companies do not even have to test their waste to see if it is toxic, leaving us with no way of knowing what is being disposed of and how it is being treated,” Cartwright said in 2013 about that proposal. “It is time oil and gas companies comply with existing minimum standards and oversight.”
And finally, the SHARED Act (Safe Hydration is an American Right in Energy Development Act) was introduced by Rep. Schakowsky, and would require drillers to test water sources near fracked wells before, during and after fracking, and to publicly disclose the results of those tests.
“Hydraulic fracturing operators and the oil and gas industries insist that fracking is safe, and does not cause water contamination,” Rep. Schakowsky said in a statement. “The SHARED Act says ‘prove it.’”
Environmental groups, including Earthjustice, Earthworks, Clean Water Action, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians, launched letters to other members of Congress, urging them to support the Frack Pack.
“Scientific studies have shown that oil and gas development, including drilling, fracking, processing, and ongoing production is linked to hazardous air pollution, contaminated drinking water supplies, and toxic waste,” the groups wrote. “In spite of these risks, the oil and gas industry has been given unprecedented exemptions from our nation’s bedrock environmental laws.”
Oil and gas industry representatives pushed back, arguing that the exemptions for the industry in federal environmental laws should not be considered “loopholes.”
“All of these bills are based on false information about supposed gaps in state and federal regulations that are actually talking points from the environmental lobby, and not based on reality,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice-president of the Western Energy Alliance said in a statement, according to CBS News.
But others said that even federal regulation would not go far enough to protect against the harms caused by fracking.
“The Frack Pack is an important first step toward stopping the oil and gas industry from profiting from the destruction of local communities and the pollution of our air and water. Oil and gas companies must be held to the same standards as other industries when it comes to protecting public health and the environment,” said Friends of the Earth’s Climate and Energy campaigner Kate DeAngelis.
“Friends of the Earth strongly supports this bill, but recognizes that no protections can make fracking safe, and the only real solution is a ban on this destructive practice.”
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