CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A group of bills called the "Frack Pack" announced Thursday by four Democratic congressmen would impose more stringent federal environmental regulations on a domestic petroleum industry lately suffering from its own success amid a persistent downturn in oil prices.
The Western Energy Alliance petroleum industry group criticized the measures as unnecessary in part because they duplicate existing state regulations.
"All of these bills are based on false information about supposed gaps in state and federal regulations that are actually talking points from the environmental lobby, and not based on reality," the Denver-based group's vice president of government and public affairs, Kathleen Sgamma, said in a statement.
The bills all have been introduced before without success. They attempt to address problems associated with a recent surge in domestic oil and gas development made possible by advances in techniques including hydraulic fracturing, the process of blasting pressurized volumes of water mixed with fine sand and chemical products underground to crack open oil- and gas-bearing deposits.
The production surge has contributed to a global slump in oil prices that in recent months has led to a sharp decrease in drilling nationwide.
One of the reintroduced bills addresses fracking directly: Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette's FRAC Act, which would regulate fracking under the U.S. Clean Water Act. The bill also would require public disclosure of chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing.
"I support fracking so long as it's done responsibly. Unfortunately, the current regulatory framework does not make sure this is the case. Our laws are riddled with loopholes that exempt fracking from protections that are vital to the safety of people and communities," DeGette said on a conference call hosted by the Environment America federation of environmental groups.
A bill brought by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, the BREATHE Act, would end exemptions to federal air pollution rules for the petroleum industry. The bill would require air pollution from many small sources to be regulated collectively rather than just individually.
"One or two fracking pads might not make much of a difference. But you suddenly put thousands of them in a limited area, it has an enormous impact on air quality which is currently exempt from the Clean Air Act," Polis said.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois wants to require pollution testing of water sources before and during petroleum development under her SHARED Act.
Under the FRESHER Act, oil and gas producers would need to get permits for development that would increase stormwater runoff. There is no good reason to exempt the oil and gas industry from federal environmental regulations that apply to other industries, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania.
"It's not like the oil and gas companies are less likely to pollute than other companies. It's just that they are more able to strong-arm amendments and grant themselves exemptions here on Capitol Hill," Cartwright said.
States with significant oil and gas development have adopted their own regulations to address pollution from the oil and gas industry.
Wyoming, for example, recently implemented a rule that requires oil and gas developers to test nearby groundwater for pollution before, during and after drilling. Wyoming also was the first state to require companies to disclose to state regulators the ingredients in the chemical products used during fracking.
"All other states with oil and natural gas production have stringent rules and exemplary safety records that don't require new, redundant federal regulations," Sgamma said.
By MEAD GRUVER, Associated Press
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