Constituent Service

One of the most popular and frequently visited sections of the Energy In Depth coalition’s online home is our Write-a-Rep feature, and for good reason. Back in the day, reaching out and contacting your member of Congress was considered an all-day affair. First you needed to draft a letter. Then you needed to look up your member. Then you needed to secure his or her mailing address, a stamp, and an envelope. And then, once you did all that, you needed to send a physical letter through the mail. All – perish the thought – without access to the Internet.

EID does the hard work for you in that regard; assuming you know your own mailing address, that’s all you need to stand up and make your views known.

Hundreds of letters have gone out via the site, and finally, months later, we’re starting to see the first messages from these lawmakers come back by way of reply. This weekend, in fact, we were treated to a missive from U.S. Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) – lead Senate author of the anti-energy legislation known as the FRAC Act, and a lawmaker who hails from an area in northeastern Pennsylvania (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) that stands to gain thousands of new jobs and billions in local revenue thanks to the safe and responsible development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.

A link to the full letter can be found here. But we’ve gone ahead and isolated a few of the more noteworthy graphs found in it. Right out of the gate, as you’ll see, Casey attempts a familiar gambit: scaring his constituents into believing that fracturing technology is unsafe:

Fracking often occurs near underground sources of drinking water and involves the use of pollutants that may contaminate the water, such as salt, arsenic, and heavy metals. The protection of underground water sources is especially important to Pennsylvania because we have the second highest number of private wells for drinking water in the nation.

It’s anyone’s guess whether Sen. Casey actually believes that “[f]racking often occurs near underground sources of drinking water.” We hope he knows the truth – that the natural gas reserves of the Marcellus Shale formation are deeper than 7,000 feet underground, more than a mile and a half below any and all sources of drinking water.

But at least on one point, he appears to be softening his stance. Observe above his suggestion that hydraulic fracturing operations “may contaminate the water.” And then compare it to what he said when he introduced the FRAC Act in June: “We already have private wells contaminated by gas and fluids used in hydraulic fracturing.”

Which is it, senator? Is that contamination already happening, contrary to what the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has found, or “may” that contamination happen in the future, despite a 60 year record of safety and performance heretofore?

Then there’s this gem, also from his constituent response letter:

My priority is to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians as we develop the Marcellus Shale. That is why I introduced legislation which would repeal an exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act which permitted oil and gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing.

This is a singularly stunning admission by Sen. Casey – and one his fellow FRAC Act co-sponsors have worked furiously to deny since the moment the bill was introduced. What Sen. Casey is saying here is simple: His legislation would “repeal” an element of existing law “which permitted oil and gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing.” You were led to believe the FRAC Act was all about disclosure? Read this line. Save it. Understand the true intent of this pernicious bill.

Perhaps sensing he had gone off message in the paragraph before, Sen. Casey’s legislative correspondent makes sure to check the box on the “disclosure” talking points:

The FRAC Act further requires that companies disclose detailed information about chemical usage to medical professionals in the event of a medical emergency. My staff is also working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on these and other issues.

Call us naïve. But shouldn’t our elected officials know a thing or two about the laws they want to change…before changing them? Dear Sen. Casey: Oil and gas operators already “disclose detailed information about chemical usage to medical professional in the event of a medical emergency.” And have for years. Heck, in Pennsylvania, you can go on DEP’s OWN WEBSITE to see a list of fracturing-related materials for yourself. Or you can go here.

Read the whole letter for yourself here. On the House side, we’re still waiting for our responses from Reps. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) – the lead sponsor of the bill. And in the Senate, we’ve sent inquiries to Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Any other HF-related reply correspondence out there of which we’re not aware? Please send it along.

UPDATE: Maybe it’s a function of the fact that EID blog posts now trigger Google Alerts for “hydraulic fracturing,” but it didn’t take long for the responses to this post to start barreling in.

The most egregious thing we missed in the item above? We should’ve taken Sen. Casey to task for not knowing that regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act doesn’t even apply to private water wells servicing fewer than 25 people (see page 8 in the following EPA document).

So where does that leave Sen. Casey’s declaration that “the protection of underground water sources is especially important to Pennsylvania because we have the second highest number of private wells for drinking water in the nation”?

Just another non-sequitur, it appears – wholly detached from the law as it exists in the actual world.

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