Members of Congress Renew Attack on Oil and Gas with “Frack Pack” Legislation
It’s “Frack Pack” season again.
A group of Democratic members of Congress are again introducing a collection of bills – which they’ve dubbed the “Frack Pack” — taking aim at oil and natural gas development, despite their past failures to overcome strong bipartisan opposition.
Reps. Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse of Colorado, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and Yvette Clarke of New York are looking for colleagues in the House to help target what they consider “loopholes” in the regulations surrounding oil and natural gas development. Their bills, though, are based on faulty notions and incorrect interpretations of laws.
They’re are also supported by a number of “Keep It In The Ground” activist groups such as Earthjustice, League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club.
Attempts to Close “Exemptions” That Don’t Exist
One the bills, the FRAC Act, mistakenly says oil and gas companies are exempt from the Safe Water Act of 1974. But that law was never contemplated as a tool to be used in exerting federal control over hydraulic fracturing — not prior to 1974, not during, and not after. In 2005, Congress clarified this position, so it would be impossible to grant an “exemption” to something that was never covered under the law in the first place.
Still, DeGette and others have pushed the FRAC Act in nearly every session since 2009, seeking to give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, an idea that EPA leaders from multiple administrations have rejected.
Proponents claim the bill is needed because hydraulic fracturing is contaminating groundwater. Schakowsky said, “Over the past decade, there have been dozens of confirmed cases of contaminated drinking water in which hydraulic fracturing is the suspected cause.”
Schakowsky’s statement is a far cry from the anti-fracking movement’s claims of “hundreds of thousands” contaminated water wells across the country, but it still ignores more than 25 scientific, peer-reviewed studies that have shown hydraulic fracturing is not a threat to groundwater. In fact, many studies have examined groundwater pollution and specifically ruled out fracking as the cause.
The FRAC Act’s “Sisters” Have Faced Similar Failures
Supporters have touted another bill in the collection – the BREATHE Act – as “sister legislation” to the FRAC Act. It is similarly based on the mistaken belief that environmental regulations don’t apply to energy companies.
The BREATHE Act has two main provisions built on the faulty assumptions that air emissions from oil and natural gas operations can only be regulated through aggregation and that hydrogen sulfide isn’t already regulated.
In reality, hydrogen sulfide is regulated by five major federal environmental statutes. And aggregating energy production – or combining the total emissions from all operations in a given area so that they can be treated as “major” sources of emissions for permitting purposes – is simply an attempt to stop development that ignores existing and robust regulation of each production site.
Unsurprisingly, this bill has failed to gain any traction since its first introduction in 2011.
The Frack Pack’s other components – the CLEANER, FRESHER and SHARED Acts – have encountered the same lack of success, perhaps because they also rely on the faulty premise that oil and natural gas production is unregulated.
The “Frack Pack” and its supporters are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by ignoring two key facts: Oil and natural gas production already is subject to an ever-tightening framework of federal and state regulations; and combined with industry innovation and leadership, that reality has resulted in unprecedented clean air and other environmental gains for the United States since the shale revolution began.