Did you know oil and gas companies are allowed to inject unchecked quantities of a secret, toxic fluid, directly into or drinking water — and that the EPA is currently powerless to do anything about it? High Pressure Hydraulic Fracturing (or Fracking) is a method of drilling for natural gas by pumping a mixture of water and toxic, cancer-causing chemicals deep underground, and it’s already responsible for poisoning the groundwater in states across the country. Fracking wells are spreading at an alarming rate. But even more alarming, thanks to the work of Dick Cheney and his infamous energy policy, Frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals used in their fluid, and the process is totally exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The FRAC Act, a bill that has been in the Senate since 2009, would correct both these problems. As public concern over Fracking has grown, the bill has gained some momentum. If you’ve ever seen the picture of the man lighting his tap water on fire from the recent documentary Gasland, that was because of nearby Fracking.
Fracking a single gas well uses hundreds of thousands, or even millions of gallons of water, combined with hundreds of tons of chemicals including known toxics and carcinogens. While the exact contents of the fluid is still a secret, scientific examination reveals that it often contains diesel fuel, which includes benzene, as well as methanol, formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid and many others. The fluid is injected thousands of feet underground at extremely high pressure, literally cracking the earth to release trapped gas. Unfortunately, our water table is down there, too.
Yet somehow, the EPA has been handcuffed from regulating Fracking to keep our water clean since 2005, in what has become known as “the Halliburton loophole.” Halliburton, where Dick Cheney was CEO before becoming Vice President, patented Fracking in the 1940’s and remains the third largest producer of Fracking fluids. And in trademark Bush administration style, Halliburton staff were actively involved in a 2004 EPA report on Fracking safety. The “Halliburton loophole” remains a dangerous legacy of the Bush Administration and if we’re going to protect our water, we need to close it.
Fracking is currently underway in 36 states. The ramifications to our water from expanded, unchecked Fracking will be extreme and are only beginning to be fully realized by the public — thanks in no small part to the continued resistance of industry to disclose the poisons it involves.
An important investigative series by the New York Times recently concluded that “the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.” In addition to toxic, carcinogenic fluids which remain underground after a well is Fracked, Fracking also produces substantial quantities of waste water which is literally radioactive. According to the Times, the water is “sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.” What’s more, above ground spills of toxic Fracking fluids are becoming increasingly common. A large spill this April in Pennsylvania dumped thousands of gallons into fields and streams, eerily, on the one year anniversary of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. That needs to change, and to change it, we need to work to pass the FRAC Act.
The FRAC Act, S 587 in the Senate and HR 1084 in the House, would do the following:
- Require disclosure of the chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction, but not the proprietary chemical formula. Disclosures would be made available to the public online.
- Protect proprietary chemical formulas– much like the way Coca-Cola must reveal the ingredients of Coke, but not their secret formula; oil and gas companies would have to reveal the chemicals, but not the specific formula.
- Enact an emergency provision requiring proprietary chemical formulas to be disclosed to a treating physician, the State, or EPA in emergency situations where the information is needed to provide medical treatment.
- Repeal a provision added to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempting the industry from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), one of our landmark environmental and public health protection statutes.
Please express your position about this bill using POPVOX, and let POPVOX send your comments directly to your Congressmen. Let them know we need to close the Halliburton loophole and protect our health and our drinking water.