DeGette, Polis ‘fracking’-disclosure camp up against big-money opponents in Congress

Colorado Democratic U.S. Reps Diana DeGette and Jared Polis are leading supporters of a move to force natural-gas drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they use to blast gas out of the ground in an increasingly controversial process called “fracking.” The two lawmakers were joined Thursday by 46 members of Congress in sending a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to back a proposal in which the Interior Department would require disclosure of all materials used in fracking operations conducted on public lands. The DeGette and Polis bloc faces strong opposition in Congress and, turns out, their main opponents are pulling down large donations from oil and gas companies.

Abraham Lustgarten at ProPublica reports that the 32 members of the Natural Gas caucus on the Hill received an average donation of roughly $54,000 last year from energy companies. The 46 members of Congress who signed onto the letter to Salazar received roughly $2,000 in energy industry donations.

Analysis of campaign finance dollars contributed to the members of Congress who are speaking out on the issue shows that the Natural Gas Caucus received 19 times more money from the oil and gas industry between 2009 and 2010 [5] than the group who signed [the Salazar] letter. According to data from Open Secrets, the 32 members against disclosure received $1,742,572. The average contribution from the oil and gas sector to individuals from that group was $54,455. Oklahoma Democrat Dan Boren, who co-chairs the caucus, personally received more than $202,000, including almost $15,000 from Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest natural gas producers in the United States.

The members of Gas Caucus also sent a letter to Salazar. They asked him to not make a hasty decision because regulations would “increase energy costs for consumers, suppress job creation in a promising energy sector, and hinder our nation’s ability to become more energy independent.”

DeGette, Polis and New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey told Salazar to demand disclosure because evidence is mounting each day that fracking is contaminating ground water.

The letter makes the case that “disclosure on federal lands would set an important precedent, because that information would become part of the public record and, when combined with state-based disclosure rules, ‘would provide a great deal of useful information for those concerned with the risks these chemicals may pose.'”

DeGette, Polis and Hinchey co-sponsored the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act in 2009, only to see it languish as debate over energy policy and climate-change legislation fell by the wayside. Dubbed the “Haliburton Loophole” for the oil services company that perfected the process, fracking was granted an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act during the Bush-Cheney administration in 2005.

It has been difficult to determine the effects of fracking on the environment because companies like Haliburton have said the the chemical mixtures they use are proprietary and disclosing the chemicals would cut into competitiveness. The upshot is that scientists don’t know what to test for exactly.

Earthjustice Legislative Associate Jessica Ennis called that plan “a crucial step in pulling back this veil of secrecy. The support for the public’s right-to-know, championed by [Hinchey, DeGette and Polis] and echoed by their colleagues is invaluable — as is their tireless work to restore drinking water protections for communities all over the country that have been placed in harm’s way by rushed and irresponsible gas development.”

The fracking debate has grown increasingly heated on Colorado’s Western Slope, where property owners say well water is being impacted by the process.

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