Waxman, Markey Investigate Hydraulic Fracturing

July 19, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Momentum is building in the House to pass new regulations on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals are injected into the ground in order to gain access to natural gas.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, respectively, sent letters to 10 well operators today asking for data meant to help determine whether the chemicals used in fracturing could contaminate drinking water.

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,” today’s 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.”

The lawmaker’s efforts come as the House Natural Resources Committee last week passed oil spill response legislation that includes a provision requiring that “the list of chemicals (as well as information about those chemicals) used in drilling or completing a well [be] posted online within 30 days after completion of drilling the well,” according to a section-by-section summary of the bill. The bill also includes an exemption “to keep proprietary information from being publicly disclosed,” the summary says. Industry has long argued that the specific chemical mixture it uses in the practice is proprietary.

The legislation — Rep. Nick Rahall’s (D-W.Va.) Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act — is expected to be a main component of an oil spill response package being cobbled together by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesperson, said he did not know if the final bill would address hydraulic fracturing. “No one can get this specific at this point,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is legislation pending in the House and the Senate that would require that industry release the chemicals used in fracturing. The bill would also give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate the practice. But the legislation has been put on hold while EPA conducts a study on fracturing. Initial results of the study are slated to be released in 2012.