A new bill would close loopholes that exempt oil and gas companies from certain clean water regulations, in the hopes of cutting down on water pollution from hydraulic fracturing operations.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), would get rid of two clean water exemptions for oil and gas companies — one enacted in 1987 and the other in 2005. The 2005 exemption, known as the Halliburton Loophole, came from a provision in that year’s Energy Policy Act and allows oil and gas companies to frack free from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. Cardin’s bill, dubbed the FRESHER Act, would do away with the Halliburton Loophole. It would also prompt the Department of the Interior to conduct a study on the impacts of oil and gas operations on stormwater runoff.
“With 15 million Americans living within one mile a mile of a well that has been drilled in the last 15 years, the loopholes oil and gas companies enjoy threaten our environment and public health,” Cardin said in a statement. “Oil and gas companies that already enjoy tax breaks should be required to follow the same laws to protect our water and public health as other industries.”
Fracking, the process of injecting high-pressure fluid into the ground to break up shale rocks and release natural gas, has been show to pose a risk to water sources. Just last week the Environmental Protection Agency released a long-awaited study on fracking, which concluded that fracking could end up endangering the health of drinking water in the U.S.
“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” the report’s executive summary reads. However, the EPA report also noted that it “did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”
Still, there have been examples of fracking operations contaminating drinking water. A study last September linked well water contamination in Pennsylvania and Texas to faulty casing in oil and gas wells. Last August, Pennsylvania made public 243 cases of contamination of private drinking wells from oil and gas drilling operations in 22 counties across the state. And research from Stanford and Duke University in September found that wastewater from fracking — which can contain carcinogens and even radioactive material — poses a risk to drinking water.
Environmental groups praised Cardin’s bill, which has been introduced in Congress before but has never been signed into law.
“An industry that is causing harm to hundreds of thousands of people does not deserve to have special exemptions, especially when that very industry is actively blocking any attempts to be directly monitored for safety,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. “We should take a precautionary approach to anything that has been shown to contaminate our precious water resources, and closing this loophole is a good start.”