Skip to content

American Public Deserves to Know Chemicals Used Near Their Water Sources

WASHINGTON, DC– U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) joined U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Jared Polis (D-CO) today to introduce companion Senate and House bills, the FRAC Act -- Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, amending the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The legislation would repeal a Bush administration exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.  Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale across much of Pennsylvania is part of our future,” said Senator Casey.  “I believe that we have an obligation to develop that natural gas responsibly to safeguard the drinking water wells used by 3 million Pennsylvanians.  We already have private wells contaminated by gas and fluids used in hydraulic fracturing.  We need to make sure that this doesn’t become a state-wide problem over the next few decades as we extract natural gas.”

Hydraulic fracturing – also known as “fracking”, which is used in almost all oil and gas wells, is a process whereby fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open and increase the flow of fossil fuels.   Fracking is used in areas of Pennsylvania where natural gas is being drilled from Marcellus Shale. 

This injection of unknown and potentially toxic chemicals often occurs near drinking water wells.  Three million Pennsylvanians are dependent on private wells for water.  Troubling incidents have occurred around the country where people became ill after fracking operations began in their communities. Some chemicals that are known to have been used in fracking include diesel fuel, benzene, industrial solvents and other carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.

Regulating hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act as done with the FRAC Act has been endorsed by 14 environmental organizations in Pennsylvania including: PennFuture; the Mountain Watershed Association and the Pennsylvania Forest Coaltion.

“When it comes to protecting the public’s health, it’s not unreasonable to require these companies to disclose the chemicals they are using in our communities – especially near our water sources,” said U.S. Rep. DeGette, Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “Our bill simply closes an unconscionable Bush-Cheney loophole by requiring the oil and gas industry to follow the same rules as everyone else.”

“It's time to fix an unfortunate chapter in the Bush administration's energy policy and close the 'Halliburton loophole' that has enabled energy companies to pump enormous amounts of toxins, such as benzene and toluene, into the ground that then jeopardize the quality of our drinking water,” U.S. Rep. Hinchey, Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment and Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said. “Our legislation says everyone deserves to have safe drinking water by ensuring that hydraulic fracturing is subject to the protections afforded by the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The bill also lifts the veil of secrecy currently shrouding this industry practice.”

“Families, communities, and local governments are upset that the safety of their water has been compromised by a special interest exemption, and we join them in that frustration,” said U.S. Rep. Polis. “It is irresponsible to stand by while innocent people are getting sick because of an industry exemption that Dick Cheney snuck in to our nation’s energy policy.  Many new sources of energy, including natural gas, will play an important role in our nation’s transition to cleaner fuels, but we must make sure this isn’t at the expense of public health.   The problem is not natural gas or even hydraulic fracturing itself.  The problem is that dangerous chemicals are being injected into the earth, polluting our water sources, without any oversight whatsoever.”  

Full text of Senator Casey’s statement for the record follows.

Statement for the Record
Introduction of the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act
June 9, 2009

Mr. CASEY.  Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act along with my colleague, Senator Schumer, that protects drinking water and public health from the risks associated with an oil and gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing.  Specifically, our bill does two things. First, it repeals an exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act that was granted to oil and gas companies four years ago.  Second, it requires oil and gas companies to publically disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

The regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act is supported by 77 groups, including 14 groups from Pennsylvania.

The oil and gas industry uses hydraulic fracturing in 90 percent of wells.  The process, which is also called “fracking,” involves injecting tens of thousands of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemical additives deep into the rock under extremely high pressure.  The pressure breaks open the rock releasing trapped natural gas, which is then captured.  Fracking often occurs near underground sources of drinking water.  Unfortunately, a provision included in the 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted hydraulic fracturing from compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The oil and gas industry is the only industry to have this exemption.

The Casey-Schumer legislation is extremely important to people living in Pennsylvania, especially those living in communities along a geological formation called the Marcellus Shale.  The Marcellus is a geological formation covering 34 million acres extending from southern New York, through central and western Pennsylvania, into the eastern half of Ohio and across most of West Virginia.  The deepest layer of the Marcellus formation – the Marcellus Shale – contains a significant amount of natural gas trapped in deep rock formations up to 9,000 feet below ground.  Last year, a professor at Penn State estimated that there was 168 million cubic feet of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.  In the industry it’s what is known as a “Super Giant gas field.”   It is enough natural gas to provide for the entire country for 7 years.  This vast amount of natural gas combined with a more complete knowledge of the natural fractures in the Marcellus Shale through which the gas can be easily extracted, has led to what Pennsylvanians are calling a gas rush. 

As I’ve mentioned, fracking involves injecting water mixed with chemicals.  My major concern is that the chemicals added to the water to create fracking fluids are highly toxic.  We’re talking about chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene.  These chemicals are injected right below underground drinking water.  This is especially important to Pennsylvania because our state has the second highest number of private wells for drinking water in the nation, second only to Michigan.  Three million Pennsylvanians are dependent on private wells to provide safe drinking water to their homes.  So massive drilling to get to the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale is not required to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, but drilling is happening right next to drinking water supplies.  You can see why Pennsylvanians are concerned about their future access to safe drinking water.

Now, the oil and gas industry would have you believe that there is no threat to drinking water from hydraulic fracturing.  But the fact is we are already seeing cases in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Wyoming, Ohio, Arkansas, Utah, Texas, and New Mexico where residents have become ill or groundwater has become contaminated after hydraulic fracturing operations began in the area. This is not simply anecdotal evidence; scientists have found enough evidence to raise concerns as well.  In a recent letter supporting our bill, 23 health professionals and scientists wrote the following:

“…Oil and gas operations are known to release substances into the environment that are known to be very hazardous to human health, including benzene, arsenic, mercury, hydrogen sulfide, and radioactive materials. The demonstrated health effects caused by these substances include cancers, central nervous system damage, skin and eye irritation, and lung diseases. For example, fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process may contain toxic chemicals such as 2-butoxyethanol, formaldehyde, sodium hydroxide, glycol ethers, and naphthalene. For these reasons, we support regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the disclosure of all chemical constituents in hydraulic fracturing fluids to public agencies, including the disclosure of constituent formulas in cases of medical need. Moreover, we support full regulation of stormwater runoff, which can pollute drinking water supplies, under the Clean Water Act.

There are growing reports of individuals living near oil and gas operations who suffer illnesses that are linked to these activities, yet there has been no systemic attempt to gather the necessary data, establish appropriate monitoring, analyze health exposure or assess risk related to any of these activities. This should be done, in addition to full Health Impact Assessments to inform future planning and policy efforts.”

In Dimock, Pennsylvania, we have a recent example of the risks involved with hydraulic fracturing.  On New Year’s Day, Norma Fiorentino’s drinking water well exploded.  It literally blew up.  Stray methane leaked and migrated upward through the rock and into the aquifer as natural gas deposits were drilled nearby.  An investigation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania shows that a spark created when the pump in the well house turned on may have led to the explosion.  The blast cracked in half the several-thousand-pound concrete slab at the drilling pad on Ms. Fiorentino’s property and tossed it aside.  Fortunately, no one was hurt in the explosion.  But throughout the town, several drinking water wells have exploded and nine wells have been found to contain so much natural gas that one homeowner was advised to open a window if he plans to take a bath.  Tests of the well water show high amounts of aluminum and iron, which leads researchers to believe that drilling fluids are contaminating the water along with the gas.  So this is a really concern.  We are talking about serious implications if we don’t develop the Marcellus Shale carefully and responsibly.

I would point out that Pennsylvania has a long history of developing our natural resources to power the region and the nation.  In fact, Pennsylvania is home to the Drake Well near Titusville, Pennsylvania, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.  The Drake Well was the first commercial oil well in the United States and it launched the modern petroleum industry.  In addition to oil, Western Pennsylvania has long produced natural gas.  Pennsylvania has also mines coal which we use to provide electricity to many of our neighboring states.  Pennsylvanians are proud of the contributions we have made to the growth of our nation.  Contributions that were made because we developed our abundant natural resources.  But we also bear the burden of some environmental legacies, most created in previous generations when we weren’t as concerned with responsible development.  We have old natural gas wells that were not capped and leak methane into homes in Versailles, Pennsylvania.  We have acid mine drainage that we spend millions of dollars every year to try and remediate.  These examples are the lessons from which we need to learn.

Pennsylvania will develop the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.  We are doing it right now, and we will see more drilling over the next few years.  But we must develop the Marcellus Shale using the best environmental practices to protect our communities and our state.  That is why I am introducing the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act.  This legislation will ensure that hydraulic fracturing does not unnecessarily jeopardize our groundwater.  There are affordable alternatives that oil and gas companies can use so that they are not risking contaminating drinking water wells with potentially hazardous chemicals.

I think Norma Fiorentino from Dimock, Pennsylvania summed it up best when she told a reporter, “You can’t buy a good well.”

So I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation and ensure that our groundwater is protected as we responsibly develop our natural resources.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of my legislation be included in the record following my remarks.

Thank you.

Related Issues

  1. Climate & Environment