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Lawmakers Seek Fracking Info From Natural Gas Well Operators

Jul 21, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Two lawmakers have sent letters to 10 natural gas well operators asking for data meant to help determine whether the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing could contaminate drinking water. The letters were sent by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who heads up the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

Hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, is used in 90 percent of the nation’s gas and oil wells. It involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Critics of fracking have long been concerned about the chemicals used in the process. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use.

According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. For this reason, environmentalists have been pushing for federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing operations. Earlier this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an investigation of the environmental and human health impact of shale gas drilling.

There is also legislation pending in the House and the Senate that would require that industry release the chemicals used in fracturing, and would grant the EPA authority to regulate the practice.

According to The Washington Independent, Waxman and Markey sent similar letters to 14 oil and gas service companies in February and May, but the companies said they did not have the data the lawmakers requested.

“In their responses, these companies identified well operators, rather than well service companies, as the entities most likely to maintain data on the proximity of specific wells to underground sources of drinking water,” their latest letters say. “Similarly, the well service companies directed us to the well operators, such as your company, for information on the recovery and disposal of fluids and water that flow back to the surface of wells that have been hydraulically fractured.”

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