Signed, Sealed & Fracked

Posted by By at 30 September, at 17 : 32 PM Print


The “Halliburton loophole” is still wide open. Congress has not found enough energy, support, or both to stop the whole fracking ordeal that surfaced in 2005.  At the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney (Cheney was a former chief executive at Halliburton), Congress in essence created a “look the other way approach.” Freeing energy companies to pump whatever materials, except diesel, into the ground in abeyance of the Clean Water Act and without public disclosure of what they are using to pry open, natural gas trapped a mile or more below the earth’s surface.

A handful of U.S. representatives and senators including Pennsylvania’s Robert P. Casey Jr. introduced the Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemcials Act in 2009; aimed at closing the loophole — making oil and gas companies disclose their fracking ingredients. The proposed “Frac Act” is before the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the senate recently added similar language to a spill bill aimed at disclosure. Energy companies, with a couple of recent exceptions, have adamantly opposed opening their frac cookbooks because it will force them to give up proprietary secrets and more.

That secretive nature has led environmental groups around the country to become highly suspicious of drillers. A closed book, in their view, means certain damage to the environment, humans, and wildlife.  George Mitchell, a billionaire tycoon, and the man widely considered the father of shale gas recently reiterated to RockTheCapital what he told the Philadelphia Inquirer;  some toxic additives used in fracturing are “not good.”  Mitchell also emphasized the need for recycling fracturing fluids or using green alternatives “because the environmentalists will give you hell, and I think they are right, they should give you hell.”

Range Resources, the company credited with putting the Marcellus Shale in play, in 2003, took a herculean, optional, step toward transparency. A few weeks ago, it posted well completion reports on its website listing chemicals used in a few initial wells, its first company to make the move. “We will do it for every single well. We are not tone deaf; we hear the questions people are asking, we have nothing to hide,” said Range Resources Spokesperson Matt Pitzarella during a phone interview with  EQT, another gas company, have since followed Range Resources lead – disclosing what chemicals it used at a couple of Marcellus sites, and other companies will likely follow.

However, drillers desperately want to keep the Federal Environmental Protection Agency from poking its head in to every nook and cranny, and it could happen. Since March, the EPA has been spearheading a nearly $2 million dollar study on the impacts hydrofracking has on water quality and public health. If the EPA winds up with the reigns of control, the concern is that the agency will halt production and establish what the industry presuposses would be tougher rules. “We do not want to hand over all regulation to the EPA,” Pitzarella said. “We believe the state and state regulatory agencies are best suited to regulate us.”

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