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What The Frack? Gas Industry’s Multimillion-Dollar Campaign Demonizes Hydraulic Fracturing Bill

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"What The Frack? Gas Industry’s Multimillion-Dollar Campaign Demonizes Hydraulic Fracturing Bill"

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Written by Alexandra Kougentakis, a Center for American Progress Action Fund Fellows Assistant, and Brad Johnson.

Energy In DepthRep. Diane DeGette’s (D-CO) attempt to regulate fracking — underground hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction — is under attack by a multimillion-dollar lobbying and public-relations campaign from the oil and gas industry. Led by the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, dozens of industry organizations established the Energy in Depth front group to denounce fracking legislation as an “unnecessary financial burden on a single small-business industry, American oil and natural gas producers.” The Energy in Depth blog personally attacks DeGette as being “squarely focused” on ending this “critical energy-producing practice”:

Consistent with her legislation in the 110th Congress, DeGette remains squarely focused on stripping states – who have a 60-year record of ensuring hydraulic fracturing is done safely and effectively – of their regulatory authority and enacting a one-size-fits-all federal mandate that could effectively halt this critical energy-producing practice at a time when our economy, working families, and state and local governments desperately need the boost.

The “multimillion-dollar lobbying and public-relations campaign to defend the practice” of fracking includes a website, Twitter feed, Facebook group, YouTube channel, an “aggressive ad campaign” on the Drudge Report.

Fracking, which was developed in the 1950s by Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, involves “injecting a million gallons or more of water and chemicals deep underground to pry out gas that’s locked away in tight spaces,” contaminating groundwater with toxic chemicals. A 2008 hydrogeologic study in Garfield County in Colorado, where fracking is extensively used, found evidence of methane and chlorine contamination of groundwater supplies. Under the Bush administration, fracking was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Furthermore, the fracking fluids — industrial solvents including known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters such as diesel fuel, and benzene — are largely unregulated. Even after a Colorado nurse nearly died from exposure to fracking chemicals in 2008, industry officials continue to argue that their toxic formulas must be kept secret. In recent testimony, a Halliburton executive compared the chemicals which cause “heart, lung, and liver failure, plus kidney damage and blurred vision” to secret flavorings:

It is much like asking Coca-Cola to disclose the formula of Coke.

The Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to close these loopholes, restoring Safe Drinking Water Act oversight and requiring that companies disclose to U.S. EPA or state agencies the specific chemicals that are injected into the ground to extract gas supplies. The sponsor of the Senate bill is Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA), while the House bill is sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY). “We’re not opposed to gas drilling,” Congressman Hinchey has explained. “We just want it to be done in a way that is not going to injure other people, not going to damage their property, not going to contaminate their water supply.”

The intent of the FRAC Act is to protect the public through healthy drinking water standards and greater public awareness. It would reduce some of the problems currently resulting from the unregulated use of the procedure while continuing to allow its use for production of oil and natural gas. If the technology truly has “an exemplary safety record,” as industry representatives claim, then they should have nothing to fear from a law that calls for greater disclosure and the protection of public safety.

Intern Erica Goad contributed to this post.

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