Members of Congress, calling for the oil and gas drillers to follow the same rules that apply to everybody else, are introducing legislation to repeal an industry exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The bill, crafted by U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey, would force energy companies to disclose the contents and concentrations of chemical solutions they inject into bedrock to stimulate production of natural gas. Critics say the process, called hydro-fracturing, endangers water supplies that the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act was designed to protect.
Industry officials say hydro-fracturing is safe and the exemption - granted in 2005 under the Bush administration - is necessary to protect trade secrets.
It's a debate that has special interest to the Southern Tier and northeastern Pennsylvania, where natural gas prospectors are staking out claims to the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, a geological formation extending under the Southern Tier and throughout Pennsylvania and the Appalachian Basin. Energy companies have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to lease tens of thousands of acres in Broome, Delaware and Tioga counties in anticipation of bringing the Marcellus into full production. Drilling has been delayed in New York while the state Department of Environmental Conservation completes regulatory updates - expected later this year.
Meanwhile, Cabot Oil has begun drilling dozens of wells just south of Montrose, Pa.
DeGette, of Colorado, is vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Hinchey, representing a large section of the Southern Tier, is a member of the Natural Resources Committee. Both are Democrats representing areas with significant stakes in natural gas production. In a conference call Thursday afternoon, they said they support gas drilling and its economic contributions, but they want to ensure it's done safely.
"We're not trying to do anything revolutionary," Hinchey said. "We're trying to restore a safe and solid piece of legislation that has to be put back in place."
Industry officials said federal legislation is unnecessary.
"New York state has stringent guidelines, and the oil and gas industry has a great record of compliance," said Jim Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York. "We expect them to get more stringent, and we will comply with those when they do."
The industry has agreed to give a list of the chemicals used in the process to the DEC, Smith said. That list would not include the concentrations of the guarded formulas, he added.
"It's the Coke and Pepsi argument," he said.
He did not know whether the ingredients would be publicly accessible after going to the DEC.
While the industry claims it has a clean environmental record related to hydro-fracturing, activists and environmentalists cite evidence of contamination at drilling sites throughout the country. They point to instances where drinking water wells have gone bad and people and animals have become sick.
(and died.) Click HERE and HERE
If hydro-fracturing solutions are indeed harmless, DeGette said, the industry should have no problem with full disclosure.
"People have a right to know if toxic chemicals are being used in their communities," she said. "If companies don't have to report what is being used in places where people and animals are getting sick, it's hard to know what's making them sick."
This is a no-brainer folks.
If you haven't done it yet, NOW is the time to write to your representatives, telling them to vote to repeal ALL exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act!
Need the e-mail address or phone number? Click HERE.