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Loophole-Filled Measure a Bid to Dodge Real Public Oversight

AUSTIN, May 19 — Today the Texas Senate heard testimony on legislation touted as a national precedent on public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells. But Texans should not be fooled: The bill allows the oil and gas industry to hide details about its use of fracking chemicals, denying citizens the important information that would help them protect their drinking water.

The bill in question, HB 3328, was introduced by Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland).

“As currently written, industry has won loopholes in HB 3328 large enough for a fleet of Texas drilling rigs. The best thing this bill does is illustrate why we need federal oversight of drilling,” said Sharon Wilson, organizer for EARTHWORKS' Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “Rather than HB3328, the public needs legislation like The FRAC Act, which would require the full public disclosure of all chemicals used in fracturing operations so that all Americans, no matter where they live, have equal protection.”

Fracking is the high pressure injection of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fluids laced with toxic chemicals deep underground to force production of oil and gas. In recent years, as more than 10,000 natural gas wells have been drilled in the Barnett Shale formation in North Texas, some residents have found their drinking water supplies contaminated by methane and other chemicals associated with drilling and fracking. But because the industry does not have to disclose what chemicals it is using, it is virtually impossible to trace water contamination to a specific well.

True disclosure would mean notifying regulators and landowners before a well is fracked and listing all chemicals and the amounts to be used. In contrast, Keffer's bill leaves wide leeway for companies to hide their hazardous fracking chemicals as trade secrets, not subject to disclosure. One limited yet significant improvement in HB 3328 was a provision for neighbors of drilling operations to appeal industry's trade secrets claims. “EARTHWORKS' members spoke out with a powerful voice calling for full public disclosure in Texas,” said Wilson.

In March, EARTHWORKS released Flowback, a report documenting cases of water contamination, air pollution and health effects suffered by residents in the Barnett Shale drilling region. The report concluded that the state's current laws and regulations are inadequate, and that the agencies charged with protecting public health too often side with industry over citizens' concerns.

“The Texas Railroad Commission and other agencies are the industry's lapdogs, not the public's watchdogs,” said Wilson. “Unfortunately, HB 3328 doesn't do anything to remedy the problem. Instead it perpetuates the too-cozy relationship between the state and the industry, leaving ordinary Texans in the doghouse.”

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