WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, today joined U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, to hold the first Senate hearing on natural gas drilling and its impact on public health and the environment. At the EPW hearing, experts testified on the potential damages that hydraulic fracturing can have on human health and the environment and examined what additional steps should be taken to ensure safe, environmentally friendly natural gas extraction.
“Natural gas development can help America transition towards a clean, independent energy future, but only if it is done responsibly,” said Senator Cardin. “The promise of natural gas will be a promise unfulfilled if the human health and environmental impacts are not properly safe-guarded. It’s long past time that they were.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a method in which fluids containing often potentially toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to release natural gas. Much of the water used in the process flows back up the drilling hole, often containing naturally occurring radioactive substances and high saline levels that municipal wastewater treatment plants are ill-equipped to handle. Fracking has generated enormous controversy in Pennsylvania, where fracking of the Marcellus Shale has resulted in numerous cases of water contamination that poses risks for public health and the environment.
Under a Bush-era loophole, fracking is currently exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and natural gas companies are not required to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking processes. While some companies have begun voluntarily to disclose the chemicals they use, others refuse to do so. Senator Cardin has cosponsored the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, S.587, which would end the natural gas industry’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act and require the industry to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process.
“The FRAC Act would bring much-needed transparency to the natural gas industry,” said Senator Cardin. “American families have a right to clean and safe drinking water, and it’s time that we take aggressive action to prevent future damage to the health of those living near such drilling operations and environmental contamination that could affect future generations.”
The natural gas industry is seeking to expand Marcellus Shale drilling into New York and Maryland, but is facing obstacles as state legislatures are attempting to block the practice, pending further examination.