A U.S. Senator from New Jersey is concerned that natural gas drilling via hydraulic fracturing is a threat to his state’s drinking water. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, a Democrat, has joined Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) in introducing the “Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act” (FRAC Act) in the Senate. If the FRAC Act becomes law, fracking would no longer be exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and drillers would be required to disclose the chemical make-up of the fracking fluids they use in the this type of drilling.
“There have been too many reports of contamination by fracking operations to let the practice continue without better oversight,” Senator Lautenberg said in a statement announcing the introduction of the FRAC Act. “When it comes to our drinking water, safety must be the top priority. People have a right to know if chemicals are being injected into the ground near their homes and potentially ending up in the water supply. This bill will ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency has the tools to assess the risks of fracking and require appropriate protections so that drinking water in New Jersey and other states is safe.”
According to Senator Lautenberg’s statement, the large number of natural gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania’s Delaware River Valley could threaten the source of drinking water for millions of New Jersey residents.
The FRAC Act has been considered by Congress before, but has yet to pass into law due to heavy industry lobbying against it.
Fracking, which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale deposits under high pressure to release natural gas, is generally exempt from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the federal government does not require natural gas drillers to disclose the ingredients in their fracking fluid, and most regulation of hydraulic fracturing is left up to individual states.
Opponents of fracking are concerned that fracking could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances such as arsenic, mercury, other heavy metals and radioactive materials from underground, or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater. While drillers are not required to disclose the chemicals in fracking fluid, studies have shown that it often contains some hazardous chemicals, including benzene and diesel fuel. An investigation conducted by the New York Times found that fracking wastewater can contain radioactive materials, and is often disposed of via sewage treatment plants that are not equipped to treat it. Eventually, this partially-treated wastewater is dumped into streams and rivers, often making its way to drinking water intakes that do not test for radioactivity.