Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Set of Tools From MIT Help People Keep Track of — and Stand Up To — Natural Gas Fracking

May 3rd, 2011 | By admin | Category: Lead Articles

New technology developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute for Technology is giving landowners, environmentalists and others concerned about fracking tools to more effectively track and organize opposition to the actions of the natural gas drilling companies who use the controversial technique.

Graphic courtesy of the Children's Environmental Health Center of the Hudson Valley.

“We have a lot of information [about drilling] from the industry, and from the states,” Chris Csikszentmihályi, director of the Center for Future Civic Media, said in a recent story about that detailed how residents of the areas affected by fracking are using the new set of social media tools called ExtrAct, “but very little info from actual people who encounter the industry as regular citizens, adding that, this is one of those “key moments when information will make a big difference.”
The ExtrAct suite to date features three components:
  • WellWatch – offers specific information on every natural gas well in five states, including GPS coordinates and the names of the well operators. Built on a wiki-style platform that lets users contribute information to the site, it also features a forum where people can post comments about personal experiences with fracking and its effects. The developers of the ExtrAct suite say they hope to expand the coverage area to include every natural gas well in the country.
  • Landman Report Card — provides information about the land agents who represent the natural gas drillers and negotiate leases with landowners. Users can browse the site by location, company or even the name of specific land agents to learn more about how these companies and their representatives conduct themselves as they set about trying to cut deals that favor the industry.
  • The News Positioning System — lets users track news stories by location by posting them onto a map of the United States.
According to the press release sent out in connection with the introduction of the ExtrAct set, Colorado anti-fracking activist Tara Meixell worked with the MIT team to “build the extrAct tools, helping citizens and grassroots organizations take advantage of drilling opportunities while mitigating or pushing back strongly against their risks … ”

“Landowners around the country are facing significant challenges when coping with leaking wells, industrial traffic, and air and water pollution. They have serious concerns about their health and property value,“ Csikszentmihályi said in the press release. “The extrAct tools give them ways to document, share, and communicate their experiences. For the first time, a rural landowner in Pennsylvania who is contemplating signing a lease can read about the experiences of a rancher in Colorado who has been dealing with these issues for twenty years. And an epidemiologist, journalist, or regulator using extrAct can survey a wide range of citizen’s experiences.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sandra Steingraber on the Health Crisis Surrounding Natural Gas Extraction

About 30 states allow hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the natural gas drilling process that injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth in order to break up shale rock and release natural gas. New York has imposed a partial moratorium on the drilling process pending the outcome of an environmental impact study this July. Yesterday, New York state lawmakers held a hearing on the health impacts of fracking, an issue that until now has received little media attention. We talk with Sandra Steingraber, a biologist who testified at the hearing. She is author of Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. [includes rush transcript]

Thursday, May 26, 2011



New York, and Pennsylvania and A Sampling of Eastern State Municipalities and Key Organizations Opposed to Hydrofrack Drilling

New York State:

Ø  Two legislative bills on hydrofrack drilling are being considered by New York State.  The Assembly bill calls for a 5 year moratorium while the Senate bill calls for an outright ban. 

Ø  NYS Executive Order calling for a drilling moratorium by former Governor Paterson has been affirmed by Governor Cuomo.

Ø  Yates County resolution unanimously passed calls for similar protection treatment of their watershed as that in NYC and Syracuse watersheds.

Ø  The Town of Jerusalem (Yates) at the February public hearing enacted a moratorium ordinance for their entire township.

Ø  The Town of Milo is drawing up a moratorium statement for board action.

Ø  Dewitt, Tully, Marcellus and Skaneateles have enacted moratoria laws.

Ø  Highland, (Sullivan Co) is developing a moratorium statement.

Ø  Buffalo has banned hydrofrack drilling and wastewater disposal in their city.

Ø  Sullivan County is the first county in New York State to enact a moratorium.

Ø  Lumberland (Sullivan Co) is considering a moratorium statement.

Ø  Town of Ulysses is establishing “industrial zones” attempting to restrict the negative impact of drilling in their water supply.

Ø  Tompkins County has enacted a ban on fracking on county land.

Ø  Broome County:  Ban on hydrofracking on county lands.  Waste restrictions for fracking cuttings and flow back water established.

Ø  Ontario County and Onondaga Counties have enacted bans on fracking on county owned land.

Ø  Ulster County has banned hydrofrack drilling on county owned lands.

Ø  Gorham in Ontario County enacted a moratorium ordinance.

Ø  The towns that ring Cooperstown's reservoir, Otsego Lake -- Middlefield, Otsego, Butternuts, Cherry Valley and Springfield -- are moving to ban or restrict natural gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
Ø  The Medical Society of the State of New York has gone on record supporting a moratorium on gas drilling using high volume hydraulic fracturing.

Ø  Cooperstown’s Chamber of Commerce has issued a position statement supporting a total ban on fracking due to the impact it will make on their watershed, farming and tourism.

Ø  A group of residents have launched a petition drive designed to ban the use of high-volume, slick water hydraulic fracturing in the Town of Caroline, Tompkins County. 

Ø  New York City has called on the US Congress to remove hydrofrack drilling’s exemption from the Safe Water Drinking Act.

Ø  The Skaneateles Town Board has initiated plans for a ban in their township.

Ø  The Otsego County Planning Board approved changes to Middlefield's master plan and zoning law that would specifically prohibit heavy industry, including gas and oil drilling.

Ø  The Board of Trustees of Bassett Medical Center, based in Cooperstown, New York, views the issue of hydrofracking as a public health issue of the highest priority and resolves that the hydrofracking method of gas drilling constitutes an unacceptable threat to the health of patients, and should be prohibited until such time as it is proven to be safe.
Ø  A consortium of interested citizens is planning for a unified moratorium and eventual ban of hydrofrack drilling in the entire Keuka Lake watershed region. 

Ø  Lebanon town board members adopted a memorializing resolution that calls on the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to repeal and reform compulsory integration laws in the State of New York that currently govern natural gas development.

Ø  A petition drive has resulted in the Dryden Town Board unanimously passing a resolution to move forward with an ordinance to ban fracking. 

Ø  The Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, Inc. has sued the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in New York State Supreme Court to declare High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing in New York State Forests contrary to the New York State Constitution and applicable environmental laws.

Ø  The Wales Town Board, Erie County, enacted a six-month moratorium on the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  Wales is the only town in Erie County that relies solely on wells for its water.  Plans are commencing for a permanent law banning this type of drilling.

Ø  The Otsego Town Board clarified a long-standing prohibition against heavy industry, including fracking for natural gas, in the town's land use law. By this vote the town, which includes most of the Village of Cooperstown, reaffirmed its home rule right to prohibit drilling through local ordinance.  They also approved revisions to its land-use law that strengthen a ban on gas drilling and hydrofracking within the town.  The law now specifies that while the removal of gravel, rock, stone, sand, fill, topsoil or "unconsolidated" minerals has been allowed, extraction of natural gas and petroleum is not permitted.


Ø  Pittsburgh bans hydraulic fracturing in their city.

Ø  Luzerne County Lehman Township, ordinance calling for “home rule” and a ban on drilling within their surrounding township area.

Ø  Cresson has enacted legislation banning fracking.

Ø  Washington Township has banned fracking.

Ø  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania City Council unanimously passed the pro-moratorium Resolution on Marcellus Shale Drilling Environmental and Economic Impacts.

Ø  The Borough Council of West Homestead, Pennsylvania, unanimously adopted an ordinance that enacts a Local Bill of Rights, along with a prohibition on natural gas extraction to protect those rights.  The bill, titled “West Homestead Borough’s Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance;  establishes specific rights of West Homestead residents, including the Right to Water, the Rights of Natural Communities, the Right to a Sustainable Energy Future, and the Right to Community Self-Government. 

Ø  Philadelphia refuses to purchase Marcellus Shale gas as the dumping of flow back waters is polluting their water supply. 

Ø  Collier Township upgraded its natural gas drilling ordinance to enhance their Marcellus Shale ordinance that would push drillers farther away from schools and provide baseline measurements for noise levels at drilling sites.


Ø  A class-action lawsuit has been filed against companies that drill for natural gas in central Arkansas. The suit is asking for millions of dollars in relation to the earthquakes associated with the fracking process the companies use. The damages enumerated in the suit are property damage, loss of fair market value in real estate, emotional distress, and damages related to the purchase of earthquake insurance.


Ø  The first community in Maryland, Mountain Lake Park, adopted an ordinance banning corporations from natural gas drilling. 

Ø  Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has sent a letter to Chesapeake Energy Corporation and its affiliates, notifying the companies of the State of Maryland's intent to sue for violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). 

New Jersey:

Ø  The New Jersey Senate Environment Committee unanimously passed a bill to ban hydrofrack drilling in the state.  The legislators now need to reconcile the

Assembly's Environment Committee's moratorium bill with the Senate's Ban Bill.  It will be going to the floor in the coming months.


Ø  Wellsburg City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting natural gas drilling in or within one mile of the city as concerns mounted about the city's water being contaminated by procedures in hydrofrack drilling.  A reservoir serving the city is beside property that Chesapeake Energy is leasing for drilling.


Ø  George Washington National Forest has disallowed horizontal drilling for natural gas within its 1.1 million acres of territory while opening up segments of the forest to the potential for wind energy construction.

West Virginia:

Ø  Wellsville has banned fracking.

Quebec, Canada

Ø  The Quebec government is putting the brakes on shale-gas drilling and exploration in the province, following the release of a special committee report saying such work should be delayed until the government can do a strategic environmental evaluation.  “There will be no compromises on health and the environment,” the minister said.   Premier Jean Charest has said the development of a shale-gas industry must be done “correctly” or it will not be done at all.


Ø  The French Parliament has voted to ban hydraulic fracturing or fracking.  The bill will be voted on by the Senate on June 1 before France could become the first country to ban the controversial practice that involves using 'slick' water a combination of water, chemicals and mud, to fracture the rock with hairline cracks and prop open underground fissures.

Compiled by Joe Hoff, Chairman of KCAH  

As of May 26, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Tells Congress "No Proven Cases Where Fracking Has Affected Water"

When asked about hydraulic fracturing -- a 60 year old energy stimulation technology used in 9 out of 10 wells nationwide -- at a U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this morning, Administrator Jackson offered this: "I'm not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water."

How ignorant... But that's the FOX NEWS slime machine doing what it's told.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Frack You: Natural Gas Drillers Are Going to Drill on Your Land Whether You Want Them to or Not

May 19th, 2011 | By admin | Category: Lead Articles, Regulation
“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” — Michael Corleone
To many Americans, that’s just one of the more memorable lines from Francis Ford Coppola’s sprawling, 1972 epic, the Godfather, but to a growing number of homeowners in the United States, that thinly veiled threat is all too real.

"Forced pooling" compels land owners to lease their property to natural gas drillers -- whether they want to or not.

According to a story published this morning by, natural gas drillers are using a legislative provision known as “forced pooling” to drill for natural gas on land they don’t own, whether the owners want them to or not.
From the ProPublica piece:
Forced pooling compels holdout landowners to join gas-leasing agreements with their neighbors. The specific provisions of the laws vary from state to state, but drillers are generally allowed to extract minerals from a large area or “pool”–in most states a minimum of 640 acres–if leases have been negotiated for a certain percentage of that land. The company can then harvest gas from the entire area. In most cases, drillers aren’t allowed to build surface wells on unleased land, so they use horizontal wells or other means to collect the minerals beneath those parcels.
The “forced pooling” issue has come up in Legislatures across the country as the shale-gas frenzy drives drillers to get the gas out of the ground as quickly as possible, and to date, 38 states have some sort of “forced pooling” law on the books, according to the ProPublica story.

Most recently, the matter has come up for debate in West Virginia, Oklahoma, New York and Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has said that he considers forced pooling to be an eminent domain seizure of private property and, as such, is against it.

“It’s private eminent domain. I don’t think that’s right,” Corbett said in his keynote speech at the recent 4th annual Appalachian Basin Oil and Gas seminar, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “I was made aware that it’s on the industry’s wish list, but I don’t agree. If I see a bill that contains forced pooling, I won’t sign it.”

Nevertheless, natural gas drillers continue to push for forced pooling provisions across the country.
Check out this application for a “forced pooling” action in Arkansas to get a sense of how relentless the drilling companies can be when they want something.

So, the bottom line, then, it would seem is this: natural gas drillers can essentially take your land from you for their use in pursuing a fat payday, contaminate your water and keep secret what chemicals they’re injecting deep underground in your backyard in the drilling process.
In short: frack you, we’re the natural gas industry.

Cartoon courtesy of J. David Bell. It was first published by the Marcellus Shale Protest.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Propane and Heating Oil Dealers Out-Gunned By Natural Gas Lobbyists

Posted by Lane Nichols on May 11, 2011 at 10:37 am

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been implicated in the contamination of groundwater sources with toxic chemicals used to extract natural gas. The natural gas industry has spent more than $10 million lobbying lawmakers in the last two years. (image:

Natural gas lobbying interests spent more than $10 million trying to influence Washington lawmakers during 2009 and 2010, figures reported to US Congress reveal.

In comparison, the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) spent less than a quarter of that amount ($2 million) and heating oil dealers spent even less, the New England Fuel Institute (NEFI) says.
The figures have sparked fears propane and heating oil dealers are being “outmanned” and “outspent” by the natural gas industry.

The lobbying expenditure was reported to Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. It comes amid widespread controversy over gas industry hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – a process by which chemically-laced fracking solutions are blasted into the ground to extract natural gas.
Recent studies have discovered high radiation levels, chemical carcinogens and other toxins in drinking water sources near drilling sites across the US. And a Duke University study into fracking contamination has just revealed potentially hazardous concentrations of methane in water wells within half a mile of some gas drilling sites.

The alarming findings have sparked calls for new regulations to protect human health and safeguard the environment. But the natural gas industry has opposed further regulation, arguing that state oversight is sufficient and that new limits could undermine production.

Natural gas is the most widely used home heating fuel in the US. The debate over fracking is likely to have led to increased lobbying efforts on the part of the natural gas industry.

Only last month it emerged that powerful Wall Street financial interests have spent nearly $30 million this year alone lobbing Washington on new regulations that could reign in speculative trading. Many commentators blame speculation for artificially driving up the price of oil.

NEFI president Michael Trunzo said apart from the amount spent on lobbying, natural gas interest groups had also employed more than 50 lobbyists compared to just 12 for the heating oil sector. It was unclear how many lobbyists were employed by the NPGA.

The NPGA is a national trade association representing all sectors of the US propane industry. It has more than 3200 members, from small businesses to large corporations. Its mission is to advance safety in the propane industry and to achieve public policies that favor production, distribution and increased use of propane gas.

Propane is used widely to power homes not connected to the national grid. It is also used as a clean-burning alternative vehicle fuel and is a popular cooking gas.

Enviros: For Fracking Before They Were Against - What The Frack

I'm looking forward to seeing more of Jay Kohn's Bakken Oil Boom series on KTVQ-TV this week, meanwhile- for those of you who wonder just what the "frack" is going on in Eastern Montana, and more so in North Dakota- here are some new reports.

First off, here's a good read at, as Ronald Bailey notes that environmentalists "were for fracknig before they were against it." (For those of you who don't know what fracking means. Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, which combined with horizontal drilling has allowed for all this domestic oil drilling and served as a bailout for school budgets in Montana.)
Given its greenhouse gas benefits, environmental activists initially welcomed shale gas. For example, in August 2009 prominent liberals Timothy Wirth and John Podesta, writing on behalf of the Energy Future Coalition, hailed shale gas as “a bridge fuel to a 21st-century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas.” The same year, environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr., head of the Waterkeeper Alliance, declared in the Financial Times, “In the short term, natural gas is an obvious bridge fuel to the ‘new’ energy economy.”
That was then, but this is now. Practically en masse, the herd of independent minds that constitutes the environmentalist community has now collectively decided that natural gas is a “bridge to nowhere.” Why? In his excellent overview, The Shale Gas Shock [download], published last week by the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation, journalist Matt Ridley explains: “As it became apparent that shale gas was a competitive threat to renewable energy as well as to coal, the green movement has turned against shale.”
Well, maybe you're worried about jobs, but the Environmental Protection Agency isn't. I know that's not a breaking news headline for anyone watching the EPA's agenda, but what is newsworthy is how the EPA isn't even pretending to be concerned about jobs.
The Washington Examiner's opinion page has this:
How important are jobs to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? Not very, according to recent testimony from EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. After Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., asked whether an EPA economic analysis of new coal ash regulations took into account potential job losses, Stanislaus replied: "Not directly, no." Gardner then followed up: "Is it standard procedure for an economic analysis to ignore the impact on jobs?" Stanislaus could only manage the following in return: "Well I can get back to you on the specific details of how we do economic analysis." It has been over three weeks since that exchange, yet Stanislaus has yet to answer Gardner's question satisfactorily.
Montana has been regarded as the Saudi Arabia of wind, the Saudi Arabia of coal, and should also be considered part of the the Kuwait of the Plains...that is- if the enormous boom that has resided in North Dakota will also take off in the rest of Montana.
Either way, you may have noticed in Jay Kohn's introductory piece to his Bakken Oil series that he mentioned this piece in The New Yorker titled "Kuwait on the Prairie."
Here's an excerpt if you missed that article:
North Dakota is booming. Its unemployment rate is the lowest in the country, 3.7 per cent, and so many people have moved there for jobs that last year local officials declared a housing crisis. The new workers have been drawn by the Williston Basin, in the western part of the state, which holds the largest accumulation of oil identified in North America since 1968. About a hundred new oil wells are blasted into the ground each month. One day a few months ago, half a dozen workers prepared to send enough explosives underground to dismantle an armored tank.

The head of the state’s department of mineral resources recently estimated that the region could contain eleven billion barrels of oil that can be obtained using current technology. That assessment has doubled since a 2008 U.S. Geological Survey study. A hundred and thirteen million barrels of crude oil were produced in North Dakota last year— more than five per cent of our domestic output. Geologists believe that Williston could be at the beginning of a twenty-year boom.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Obama Taps Panel of Experts to Make Hydrofracking Cleaner, Safer

Posted by Josh Garrett on May 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm   
Former CIA director John Deutch will lead a panel of experts in seeking out solutions to the safety and environmental threats posed by hydraulic fracturing. (image:

Following up on the vision of wider but more cautious tapping of America’s vast natural gas reserves that he laid out in March, President Obama has called on a group of experts to explore how to make gas drilling safer. The New York Times reported on Friday that the Department of Energy, at the direction of the president, has convened a diverse panel of experts to come up with solutions to the threat hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. hydrofracking) poses to underground sources of drinking water.

Hydrofracking has been identified as the key to accessing decades’ worth of natural gas supplies currently locked beneath rock formations in the eastern and western US. As the use of fracking has expanded rapidly in recent years, so has domestic natural gas production. And because propane and other NGLs are byproducts of gas drilling, increased gas extraction has boosted propane supplies substantially. But because it involves blasting millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground at extremely high pressure, hydrofracking has been linked to contamination of rural water supplies. Those cases and the ongoing danger of soil and water pollution have spawned a movement led by environmentalists to halt hydrofracking until it can be more completely and effectively regulated to protect local environments.

The movement to regulate fracking has found a receptive audience in the Obama administration, with both Obama himself and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu publicly stating the need for more investigation into and oversight of fracking activities. The panel named by Secretary Chu last week has two objectives: to recommend steps that will make hydrofracking safer in just 90 days and to outline appropriate safety and environmental guidelines for state and federal regulators. The seven-member panel is led by John Deutch, a chemist and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and includes oil and gas industry leaders, academics, and environmentalists.

Despite the diverse makeup of the panel that represents all stakeholders in the fracking debate, Republicans in the House of Representatives swiftly condemned the creation of the panel and its mission in a press release, claiming further studies of hydrofracking are superfluous and place an undue burden on businesses. Republicans also stated that hydrofracking has been used safely for decades and that the Evironmental Protection Agency already has sufficient authority to regulate the practice.

While hydrofracking has been employed by the oil and gas industry for more than 50 years, recent technological advancements like horizontal drilling have allowed fracking to be used in ever-deeper drilling endeavors, bringing about new threats to aquifers and surrounding environments.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Review of Some Oil and Gas Exemptions from Environmental Regulation

May 6, 2011

As hydraulic fracturing for natural gas continues to attract media attention, I thought that this would be a good time to review several of the major statutory exemptions enjoyed by oil and gas companies. The most substantial exemption, in my view, is the EPA's determination in 1988 that oil and gas exploration and production or "E&P" wastes should not be regulated under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. When Congress enacted RCRA in 1976, the Act contained no oil and gas exemption. Congress eventually directed the EPA to study, though, whether certain oil and gas wastes should be regulated under Subtitle C or not, and after some foot-dragging and a lawsuit, the agency determined that the wastes--although some of them were hazardous--should be exempted.

Specifically, the EPA's 1988 study, located at 53 Fed. Reg. 25,446, concluded that "23 percent of the statistically weighted sample sites generating produced water contain one or more of the toxic constituents of concern at levels greater than 100 times the health-based standards." More generally, the EPA found that between ten and seventy percent of the oil and gas wastes sampled (the percentages varied by type of waste) "could potentially exhibit RCRA hazardous waste characteristics." The EPA concluded, though, that imposing corrective action requirements, including on-site management of the wastes under RCRA, would result in "significant costs to the industry" and that "most existing State regulations are generally adequate for protecting human health and the environment."

The EPA conducted its RCRA exemption study before high-volume "slickwater" hydraulic fracturing in shales had fully emerged. Gas operators in the Barnett Shale did not perfect the slickwater technique, which uses large quantities of water mixed with smaller quantities of chemicals, until the late 1990s, so the EPA has never directly studied whether the several million gallons of fracture solution injected into a well--some of which flow back up and must be disposed of--have hazardous characteristics and might merit a reconsideration of the RCRA Subtitle C exemption. In light of this concern, the Natural Resources Defense Council submitted a rulemaking petition to the EPA in 2010, requesting that the EPA reconsider the 1988 RCRA exemption for oil and gas exploration and production wastes.

Another interesting aspect of the RCRA exemption is its reliance, to some extent, on non-mandatory guidelines that are intended to improve state regulations. Because the EPA recognized that some oil and gas exploration and production wastes were hazardous when it exempted them from RCRA Subtitle C regulation, the agency noted that some gaps in state regulation needed to be filled. As a solution, the agency gave money to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission to review state regulations, and the IOGCC formed something called the State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc., or "STRONGER." STRONGER brings together representatives from industry, state environmental agencies, and environmental groups to review the efficacy of state oil and gas regulations, but STRONGER is of course not a regulatory agency. After reviewing the adequacy of regulations--including recent reviews specific to hydraulic fracturing--STRONGER develops non-mandatory "guidelines" for better state laws. In evaluating whether the RCRA exemption is a good idea, we should therefore look both to the data and assumptions behind the EPA's 1988 exemption decision and to its assumption about how states would improve their laws by, for example, following STRONGER recommendations.

A second important oil and gas exemption in federal environmental law is the exemption of uncontaminated sediments from oil and gas construction sites from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System stormwater permitting requirements. The EPA has a useful website that summarizes several aspects of this exemption, including: its original text; Congress's attempt to expand the exemption to most oil and gas construction, exploration, and production activities in the Energy Policy Act of 2005; and subsequent litigation that has somewhat narrowed this attempted expansion.

Third, oil and gas operators do not need to prepare annual toxic chemical release forms under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. (42 U.S.C. 11023 describes the Standard Industrial Classification codes to which the reporting requirement applies, and oil and gas drilling do not appear to fall within the SIC codes covered.) Oil and gas operators must keep material safety data sheets on site under Section 311 of EPCRA, however, and must provide the MSDS to local emergency planning committees upon request. EPCRA specifically allows the operators to claim trade secret status for chemicals when providing MSDS to local emergency planning committees.

Finally, the process of fracturing itself is not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA had long maintained that hydraulic fracturing did not count as "underground injection" under the Safe Drinking Water Act--a position that the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation successfully challenged in Alabama--and Congress formally affirmed the EPA's position in the Energy Policy of Act of 2005, in which Congress declared that hydraulic fracturing (unless the fracturing used diesel fuel) did not fall under the SDWA definition of underground injection. This exemption means that oil and gas operators need not obtain a permit for an underground injection control (UIC) well prior to fracturing. Interestingly, a report recently released by Representatives Waxman, Markey, and DeGette concludes that some of the major fracturing companies injected approximately thirty million gallons of diesel fuel "or hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel" into fractured wells between 2005 and 2009. It is not clear whether these companies obtained a UIC permit for this fracturing.

The report that reveals the use of diesel fuel is also interesting because several of the major fracturing companies signed a memorandum of agreement with the EPA in 2003 stating that they would not use diesel fuel in fracturing. (The memorandum is no longer available online, but the EPA's press release about the memo is still available.)

In sum, oil and gas companies operate under several substantial exemptions from federal environmental laws. As the Ground Water Protection Council likes to point out, many other federal laws still apply. A company wanting to discharge wastes into a river, for example, must obtain an NPDES permit under the Clean Water Act. Oil and gas companies also must comply with the Endangered Species Act and OSHA regulations, among many other federal laws. But the exemptions should not be ignored, particularly as states, and groups of state regulators such as the Ground Water Protection Council, argue that state regulations adequately control hydraulic fracturing risks. If we continue to rely substantially on states to control the risks, we should ensure that state regulations are sufficiently robust.

-Hannah Wiseman