The congressional bill aimed at preventing potentially negative byproducts of the hydraulic fracturing stage of
natural-gas production has gained renewed relevance 10 months after its introduction by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette,coinciding with recent congressional action on the issue.
The Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to study the chemicals injected underground by the natural-gas
industry has boosted efforts by DeGette, D-Colo., to pass legislation regulating the chemicals.
We are pleased with the attention the fracing issue has been garnering recently," said Lisa Cohen, chief of staff for
DeGette introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (the FRAC Act) in the U.S. House of
Representatives last June. The legislation would compel members of the gas industry to disclose the chemicals used
during the hydraulic fracturing, or fracing, process.
In fracing, a well is drilled, then chemicals, water and sand are pumped into it at high pressure to fracture the
surrounding formation, which releases water followed by gas.
Currently, the gas industry does not have to disclose the chemicals used during the fracing process. The Colorado Oil
and Gas Conservation Commission requires companies to keep a list of the chemicals used, which the state can share with
certain health agencies as needed, but the information is not public.
Supporters of DeGette's bill say the chemicals used may be toxic and present a health risk to the communities where
fracing takes place.
In Colorado, the practice has been under scrutiny since a Mercy Regional Medical Center nurse was sickened in April
2008 and nearly died after being exposed to the chemicals. La Plata County is the top producer of natural gas in
In late March, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment announced that letters would be
sent to eight gas and oil services companies by subcommittee chairman Ed Markey, D-Mass., and committee chairman Henry
Waxman, D-Calif., asking for information about the companies' fracing practices.
Calfrac Well Services, Sanjel Corp., and Frac Tech Services Limited, which have regional offices in northern and
western Colorado, are among the
eight companies Congress will investigate.
The inquiry comes on the heels of information released in early February that gas and oil companies Halliburton and BJ
Services Co. admitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in January 2008 to using diesel in their fracing
processes between 2005 and 2007, violating an agreement they made with the EPA to cease the use of diesel during
The committee investigation revealed that the use of diesel in fracing occurred in Colorado, according to Cohen.
Eric Wortman, communication director for Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, said Salazar has not decided whether to support
DeGette's bill, in part because of the unsettled science behind fracing.
You'll have groups come in, on one side or the other, and swear to you that the science backs them up, and who's
telling the truth?" said Wortman. If the federal government steps in and does some work, our hope is that will help
shed some light."
Wortman said Salazar would support an EPA study on the environmental impact of fracing to help clarify the science.
The EPA recognizes that fracing is one method of accessing natural gas energy, which helps improve the nation's
clean-energy goals, according to EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones.
But there are compelling reasons to believe that hydraulic fracturing may impact groundwater and surface-water quality
in ways that threaten human health and the environment, which demands further study," Jones said.
U.S. Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Penn., who introduced the companion bill to DeGette's legislation in the U.S. Senate,supports further study of fracing, according to Larry Smar, communication director for Casey.
Smar said evidence of the negative effects of fracing has been seen in Pennsylvania, which has significant gas
We already have private (water) wells contaminated by gas and fluids used in hydraulic fracturing," he said.
Casey's fracing bill remains in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where little action has been
taken on it, according to Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who sits on the committee.
No hearings have been held on the bill, and it remains unclear when or if the bill will be considered," Barrasso said
in an e-mail statement.
Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall were not among the six co-sponsors of Casey's bill.
Jeremy Walsh is an intern at
The Durango Herald.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.