The Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act – climate change legislation at long last introduced in the U.S. Senate Wednesday – calls on oil and gas service companies like Halliburton to divulge chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the high-pressure process of injecting water, sand and undisclosed chemicals deep into natural gas wells to crack open tight geologic formations and free up more gas. Oil and gas companies argue the chemicals are proprietary formulas kept secret to give them an edge over their competition.
Critics say the process can and has led to groundwater contamination and that government officials and the public at large have a right to know the contents of frack fluids. Industry officials counter the process has been used for decades with no known instances of contamination.
Recognition of the fracking debate in the Senate climate change bill is significant because it has yet to take up Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette’s FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act, introduced nearly a year ago in the House.
Kerry-Lieberman calls on oil and gas service companies to “disclose all chemical constituents used in a hydraulic fracturing operation to the public on the Internet in order to provide adequate information for the public and state and local authorities.”
State officials who regulate natural gas drilling in Colorado have said the FRAC Act, which would remove a 2005 exemption for fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, would impose another layer of federal regulations that simply can’t be accommodated by the understaffed Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Counties and towns in gas-rich areas around the state are split on whether to support the FRAC Act, as is Colorado’s congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a blue-dog Democrat representing the mostly rural and energy-rich Western Slope, opposes the bill despite a survey indicating the majority of his constituents favor the legislation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which issued a highly criticized report on fracking during the Bush administration, has undertaken a new study of the process, but calls for the FRAC Act have continued.
Last month, Exxon Mobil, the nation’s largest energy producer which in December jumped into natural gas by acquiring XTO Energy for nearly $30 billion, told shareholders it wants fracking chemicals disclosed to ease the fears of landowners. Exxon joins several other smaller energy companies that called for full disclosure last fall.
Under its one-year-old oil and gas drilling regulations, Colorado requires oil and gas companies to keep an inventory of chemicals on site and to make it available to emergency services personnel in the event of a spill. The Senate bill takes that one step further.
But some environmental groups are concerned that merely requiring companies to disclose the chemicals on a website will not carry the same regulatory authority as removing the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption.