DeGette to float ‘fracking’ amendment to Safe Drinking Water Act legislation

Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette Wednesday will introduce an amendment calling for full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids to a bill introduced earlier this month that’s meant to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water Act.

HR 5320 (pdf), the “Assistance, Quality, and Affordability Act of 2010,” was introduced May 10 by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

The bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase funding assistance for states, water systems and “disadvantaged communities,” strengthen EPA enforcement and improve the financial and environmental management of water systems.

DeGette, who last summer introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, has been trying to remove a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for hydraulic fracturing – a processed used by oil and gas companies – that was granted in 2005 during the Bush administration.

Dubbed the “Halliburton Loophole” for the oil and gas drilling services company that perfected hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the 2005 exemption allows companies to keep secret the chemicals injected deep into natural gas wells, along with water and sand, to fracture tight geological formations and free up more gas.

Industry officials claim the process has been used for decades with no known cases of groundwater contamination and that the chemical formulas are proprietary. Environmentalists, some residents of energy producing area and an increasing number of politicians say the process is tainting drinking water and needs to be more closely regulated.

The Obama administration EPA is now studying the process, but some say federal legislation and oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act is still needed. Colorado oil and gas regulators feel their own rules, which require a list of chemicals used in fracking to be kept on site of drilling operations and made available upon request to emergency responders, are adequate to address the process.

Disclosure of fracking chemicals is also in the recently introduced Kerry-Lieberman climate change bill, but critics say that legislation comes up short by failing the remove the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption.

“Certainly what’s going on in the Gulf reminds us all that we need to be making sure that we’re doing this energy exploration safely, so [DeGette] saw a good opportunity to move forward on the disclosure piece [with the amendment],” DeGette communications director Juliet Johnson said.