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New legislation would end Bush-era exemption for oil and gas industry, protect drinking water from drilling toxics

Local governments express support for ending loophole

(Washington, D.C., June 9) – Today Senators Casey (D-PA) and Schumer (D-NY), and Representatives DeGette (D-CO), Polis (D-CO) and Hinchey (D-NY) introduced bills in the Senate and House to close the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” in the Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts hydraulic fracturing, and to require the public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The Halliburton loophole authorizes oil and gas drillers, exclusively, to inject known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. It passed as part of the Bush Administration's Energy Policy Act of 2005.

“Energy development needn't threaten our drinking water and public health — but under the Halliburton loophole, it does,” said John Fenton, a rancher negatively impacted by drilling activity, and member of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens in Wyoming.

Hydraulic fracturing injects fluids under extremely high pressure into an oil or gas well to crack open underground oil and gas formations. The fluids usually contain highly toxic chemicals, and hydraulic fracturing is suspected of contaminating drinking water across the country. Hydraulic fracturing is now taking place in 34 states from New York to Ohio to Colorado.

“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. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO), 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.”

The exemption is known as the “Halliburton loophole” because former Vice President Dick Cheney, ex-CEO of Halliburton, is associated with its creation. Halliburton developed hydraulic fracturing in the 1940s, and remains one of the three largest manufacturers of fracturing fluids.

“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,” said U.S. Representative Hinchey (D-NY). “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.”

The legislation ensures that a federal minimum standard prohibits endangerment of underground sources of drinking water while allowing states flexibility in implementing that standard. These bills also require disclosure to relevant public agencies of the chemical constituents used in fracturing.

“Oil and gas drilling is important to our local economy,” said Michael Rendon, Mayor Pro Tem of Durango, Colorado. “However, the public deserves to know what type of industrial chemicals are in use near their homes and water resources so they can protect themselves and their communities.”

As so-called unconventional gas drilling expands across the country, the potential threats to water from this unregulated practice continue to grow. In response, local governments and water districts have passed resolutions that demand action to close the loophole and protect drinking water.

“Let's not let rural New York and other communities suffer the same fate of those that have gone before us,” said Don Barber, Supervisor of Town of Caroline and the chair of the Council of Governments in Tompkins County. “Let's get in front on drilling impacts by ensuring that we get the facts about hydraulic fracturing chemicals, and that the oil and gas companies aren't given special treatment, but held accountable to protect our water resources like every other industry.”

Like many other local governments across the country, the Township of Nockamixon, Pennsylvania has recently taken steps to protect water and other community resources in the face of drilling. The Township amended local drilling regulations in 2006, and earlier this month they adopted a resolution calling for supporting Congressional action to require fracturing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Current regulation of hydraulic fracturing is not sufficient,” said Supervisor Chair, Nancy Janyszeski of Nockamixon. “From where I sit, ensuring a federal minimum water standard and disclosing chemical makeup is essential.” In 2008 the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) adopted Special Protection Waters (SPW), this month they announced they will require anybody drilling for gas within the area to apply for a drilling permit. All of these efforts are achievements towards responsible drilling and protecting our extremely valuable resource, water.”

Several other major environmental protection statutes contain loopholes for the oil and gas industry, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.