Congress is well paid by the oil and gas industry to do absolutely nothing to protect communities from insufficiently regulated oil and gas drilling.
And that’s exactly what they’re busy doing — nothing. Of course, the process of doing nothing means appearing to be very busy, introducing lots of bills that they know won’t pass to score points with their constituents and funders.
It should not be lost on us that their inaction is all about money. With the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the amount of political giving by the oil and gas industry has exploded, as indicated in the chart at left.
And what the oil companies want in return is to be left alone. They want to be free to pull oil and gas out of the ground without having to worry about poisoning the water supply or worrying about impacts on human health, and they want Congress, as much as possible, to backtrack on environmental legislation that has already been passed.
Sadly, this is exactly what Congress has given them. They have done nothing of significance to protect citizens in fracking regulation since the boom started over the last decade. And over the last 25 years they’ve been doing the bidding of their benefactors by gutting major environmental protections passed by a more bipartisan Congress in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s worth your time to read the detail of how these protections have been stripped away by a Congress more interested in pleasing their funders than protecting their constituents. Click on the graphic below for the terrible details.
But it’s all posturing. Every member of Congress knows that none of these bills has a ghost of a chance of becoming law.
The following bills have all been introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives. As a group, they’re commonly referred to as the “Frack Pack.” If passed, they would provide important protections to communities and landowners, and remove oil and gas exemptions from major federal environmental legislation. On this site, we have advocated for provisions of all these bills, and the protections the bills would offer are what citizens seeking local zoning want.
HR 1482: Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2015 (FRAC) (House sponsor: Diana DeGette, CO): This bill would empower the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing. Key provisions:
- Remove the hydraulic fracturing exclusion from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). You’ll recall that this exemption was passed as part of the Energy Act of 2005 at the behest of Vice President Cheney.
- Impose increased requirements for disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process, although the bill still has a provision that gives companies trade secret protections.
HR 1515: Safe Hydration is an American Right in Energy Development Act of 2015 (SHARED) (House sponsor: Jan Schakowsky, IL). SHARED would add the following provisions to the SDWA:
- Mandate that oil and gas operators implement groundwater testing before drilling operations begin.
- Require operators to conduct testing throughout drilling operations.
- List testing results online.
HR 1460: Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act of 2015 (FRESR) (House sponsor: Matt Cartwright, PA). FRESR addresses oil and gas exemptions in the Clean Water Act (CWA). The bill would require oil and gas operators to obtain a permit for stormwater run-off through each stage of the fracking process.
HR 1154: Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effects (BREATHE) Act of 2015. (House sponsor: Jared Polis, CO). BREATHE is directed at clearing up the oil and gas exemption in the Clean Air Act (CAA) by:
- Adding hydrogen sulfide as a hazardous air pollutant.
- Adding oil and gas wells as a major source of hydrogen sulfide.
- Giving the EPA the ability to establish thresholds for the amount of hydrogen sulfide that is allowed to be emitted from the wells.
- Repealing the provision of the CAA that allows the aggregation of oil and gas wells and compressor stations when determining whether an activity constitutes a major source.
HR 1902: Protect Our Public Lands Act (POPLA) (House sponsor: Mark Pocan, WI). POPLA would ban fracking on land leased by the federal government. However, drilling in operation when the bill is enacted would be permitted to continue until the lease expired or was adjusted.
On the other side of the aisle, Senate Republicans have introduced two bills in the Senate that would significantly reduce the federal government’s ability to regulate any fracking activity:
S 828: Fracturing Regulations are Effective in State Hands Act of 2015 (FRESH) (Senate sponsor: James Inhofe, OK, co-sponsored by Steve Daines, MT). FRESH would give states sole authority for regulating fracking, including federal lands located within each state. You might recall our recent discussion on this bill in the case of the Wilks brothers, who are busy buying the loyalty of federal and state legislators in Montana.
S 15: Protecting States Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act of 2015 (PSRPAES). (Senate sponsor: Orrin Hatch, UT). PSRPAES targets the federal Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, which governs the leasing of land for oil development. The bill would bar the Department of Interior from regulating hydraulic fracturing in a state if that state already regulates fracking. Under the bill, this would be true whether or not the regulations are more or less restrictive than federal regulations.
So there you have it. The Democrats want to regulate the oil and gas industry, and the Republicans want to take away regulations. But neither side will get anything done. Congress is, as Macbeth put it,
…a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
For those of us whose communities are threatened by oil and gas drilling, it is important to keep in mind that the federal government has no interest in passing legislation to preserve our environment, nor does the state of Montana. Montana legislators had ample chance to show their commitment to protecting its citizens in the 2015 session, but passed no bills that would provide necessary protections.
The failure of our elected representatives in Washington and Helena is exactly why we need local control of oil and gas activities. A group of local citizens in Stillwater and Carbon counties made the point well in this video produced in the summer of 2014. It’s worth watching.