In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) introduced this bill alongside the CLEANER Act in order to hold the oil and gas industries accountable to national standards for water and air protection:
“Northeastern Pennsylvania is blessed with abundant natural resources, water streams and wildlife, and it’s important that we preserve them for future generations. These bills will close damaging loopholes in current legislation to ensure dangerous pollutants don’t seep into our waterways and our land.”
In a letter to his Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill last Congress, Rep. Cartwright wrote:
“The preservation of our clean water is one of the most fundamental environmental issues we face in our time, and something which cuts through political divides. Today, however, oil and gas operators are exempted from the basic protections afforded by the Clean Water Act. The effect of this potentially endangers our environment. The FRESHER Act… closes the loophole for oil and gas companies in the Clean Water Act.... [Currently, the Clean Water Act’s] stated goal is hindered by amendments made to the bill in 1987 and 2005, which created exemptions for growing oil and gas exploration projects. These new amendments allow the oil and gas industries to circumvent the laws every other industry follows that protect our waterways despite the fact that the runoff from oil and gas well pads and related infrastructure can be contaminated with dangerous pollutants. Such runoff can and has polluted waterways – degrading water quality, and damaging aquatic habitats. Obtaining a permit is a straight forward process, and this bill would only seek to require oil and gas companies to have a plan to protect streams from runoff and acquire this simple permit.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), sponsor of a Senate bill that would give states the sole authority to issue or enforce any regulation, guidance, or permit requirement regarding fracking, argues that hydraulic fracturing is key to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security:
“Hydraulic fracturing is critical to our domestic energy production, supporting economic competitiveness and national security. Unfortunately, the federal government has been seeking to burden the industry with red tape, duplicating state regulations, making our energy production more expensive and preventing the United States from achieving greater energy independence."
Rep. Cartwright’s two bills are part of a five-bill package called the “Frack Pack.” This legislative package also includes:
This legislation — along with the overall Frack Pack — has 55 Democratic House cosponsors in the 116th Congress. It’s endorsed by a number of key environmental organizations, including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Endangered Species Coalition.
In the 115th Congress, this legislation had 72 Democratic House cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: Congress exempted oil and gas operations from the requirements to have a permit from stormwater runoff in legislation passed in 1987. It then expanded this exemption in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, extending it to include construction activities related to oil and gas, such as building wellpads, roads and pipelines.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process to extract underground resources such as oil or gas from a geologic formation by injecting water, a propping agent (e.g., sand), and chemical additives into a well under enough pressure to fracture the geological formation.
“Fracking fluid” is the mix of water, sand, and chemicals (including known carcinogens) used in fracking. In 2011, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce published the results of an investigation which found that oil and gas companies “used hydraulic fracturing products containing 29 chemicals that are 1) known or possible human carcinogens, 2) regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health or 3) listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.” These 29 chemicals were components of 652 products used in fracking.
Proponents of fracking call it a “commercially viable practice” that has been used for over 60 years. The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), a nonprofit organization with members consisting of state groundwater regulatory agencies that work toward the protection of the United States’ groundwater supply, released a report in 2009 stating that the “current State regulation of oil and gas activities is environmentally proactive and preventive” and concluding that “[a]ll oil and gas producing States have regulations which are designed to provide protection for water resources.” The GWPC’s 2009 study also contended that there’s a lack of evidence that fracking conducted in deep and shallow formations presents a risk to groundwater.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Sean Hannon)