Bills Seek Disclosure of "Fracking" Chemicals That May Threaten Drinking Wells

July 1, 2009

Legislation has been introduced in both House and Senate that would repeal a provision allowing secrecy over chemicals injected underground during high-tech gas drilling — chemicals some homeowners complain are poisoning their drinking water.

Hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") involves injecting chemicals and other materials into gas wells to break up gas-bearing rock and release the gas it contains. Gas companies claim it is safe, but some of the chemicals they inject can — and sometimes do — make well-water undrinkable.

Congress in 2005 addressed this problem in the Energy Bill of that year by exempting gas and oil drilling companies from the disclosure requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. This, along with actions by the Bush EPA, allowed companies to withhold information about what chemicals they were pumping into underground formations merely by claiming the information as a "trade secret."

EPA and the gas drillers say no evidence exists that unequivocally proves fracking operations have contaminated specific wells. They dismiss concerns that their scientific reasoning is circular — environmentalists complain that pollution can not be proved when the specific chemicals involved are hidden even from EPA. But fracking fluids are known to often contain chemicals like benzene and toluene, which are known to be toxic.

The bills that would reverse this secrecy and establish federal oversight of fracking are HR 2766 (introduced by Diana DeGette, D-CO) and S 1215 (introduced by Robert P. Casey, D-PA). The oil and gas industry is lobbying furiously against them, and neither has yet gone to hearings.