HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Senate Takes Aim at Fracking Health Concerns

Concerns about the health effects of fracking – the controversial method of extracting oil and gas from shale rock formations using explosives – may lead to new legislation.

The concerns arise from reports of contamination arising from operations, and the fact that fracking has received special waivers from environmental regulation. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 excluded hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production from permitting under the Safe Drinking Water Act’s (SDWA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program. In testimony before at Senate Committee hearing on Environment and Public Works on April 12th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted that fracking can cause:

  • stress on surface water and groundwater supplies from the withdrawal of large volumes of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing;
  • potential contamination of drinking water aquifers resulting from faulty well construction and completion;
  • compromised water quality due to challenges with managing and disposing of contaminated wastewaters, known as flowback and produced water, where contaminants could include organic chemicals, metals, salts and radionuclides; and
  • impaired air quality from hazardous air pollutants such as benzene and the potent greenhouse gas methane.

Last Year, the House of Representatives directed the EPA to conduct a study of fracking to “to better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and groundwater.” The study has been initiated and a final report is expected in late 2012.

Depending on the results of the study, lawmakers are poised to take action. In an opening statement at the hearing, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) said: “We need to put the environmental cop back on the beat, take aggressive action against the bad actors in the industry and earn back the public’s confidence.  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.”


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