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Some Environmentalists Dissatisfied with ‘Fracking’ Addition to Energy Bill

A late addition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) energy and oil spill response bill has galvanized Republicans against the proposal. Reid, in an effort to throw a bone to environmentalists, added to the legislation part of a bill proposed by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would require natural gas drillers to disclose chemicals used in a controversial drilling practice called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

While the natural gas industry has raised loud criticism in opposition to the proposal, some environmentalists aren’t completely happy with it either. “We’re happy that people recognize the importance of disclosure, but the actual disclosure language that’s in the bill is not as good as what’s in the FRAC Act,” said Ed Hopkins, director of the environmental quality program at the Sierra Club, referring to the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act that Casey and Schumer introduced last year.

Fracking is a process whereby sand, water and chemicals are injected into the earth to loosen large underground deposits of natural gas.

The fracking language in the Reid bill is based on the FRAC Act, but does not include, for example, the repeal of a regulatory exemption of fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a provision Hopkins said is necessary to ensure adequate oversight of the practice. The Reid bill also does not include a definition of “proprietary formula,” which gives industry more leeway to claim they can’t disclose the chemicals they use because it puts them at a competitive disadvantage, Hopkins said.

The natural gas industry, for its part, raised familiar objections to the Reid proposal.

American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Cathy Landry, noting that the industry supports disclosure in theory, said:

We believe that this provision overreaches. State regulators are responsible for drilling operations in their individual states. This has been the case for over since drilling began in the United States. The reason is that the states are best suited to regulate drilling and drilling practices (including hydraulic fracturing, a practice used safely in drilling operations for over 60 years in more than a million wells) because they – more than the federal government – understand the geography, formations and social and environmental issues in their states.

American’s Natural Gas Alliance, in a statement, sounds a similar note:

We fundamentally believe that regulation of hydraulic fracturing is best addressed at the state level and we have been unable to reach a consensus with congressional advocates on how this program would be overseen by the federal government. Therefore, we cannot support this language. ANGA does however remain committed to improving transparency, whether through state or individual company action, and will continue to work toward that goal.

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