Senate Committee Considers the Public Health Implications of Fracking

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Senators debate whether to regulate a drilling process.

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At a recent committee hearing, U.S. Senators from both parties vigorously debated whether to regulate a process of drilling for natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The Senators debated whether the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) required companies to obtain permits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add diesel fuel and other chemicals to water during fracking.

Some Senators emphasized that municipal wastewater treatment plants are unable to process carcinogenic chemicals released from fracking sites. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), chair of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, called for on the EPA to take urgent action.

EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe responded that the EPA was waiting on the results of a study it was conducting on fracking safety.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) argued against federal regulation of fracking, urging that state regulation would be more appropriate. Perciasepe said that any EPA regulation would not eliminate room for state authority, but instead EPA would merely oversee state-run regulatory programs.

During the hearing, Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) discussed his proposed Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), which would amend the SDWA to require oil and gas companies to disclose to state agencies when they add chemicals to water during fracking. The proposal would close a disclosure exemption enacted during the Bush Administration. Casey explained that, even though the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates industry disclosure of chemical additives, Pennsylvania’s drinking water is being affected by neighboring states that do not require disclosure.