The fracas over fracturing — updated

The natural gas industry is teaming up to rally support against what it sees as an unnecessary hurdle for an essential tool in the recent natural gas production boom in the U.S.
A bill by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., would require companies to disclose the drilling chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and subject them to the federal Clean Water Act. Actually it’s repealing the exemption fracturing received in 2005.
The industry has banded together to fight the bill under the name Energy In Depth.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process that’s been around for many decades but has become more widely used in the last few years. The boom in natural gas production from shale formations in places like the Barnett Shale near Fort Worth and the Haynesville formation in part of Louisiana are examples of this.
The process essentially involves pumping a whole heck of a lock of drilling fluids, sand, plastic bead and other materials into a well under high pressure and cracking open the shale to release gas. It’s been found to recover a lot of natural gas over a short period of time.
Earlier this week, the Louisiana House became the latest state legislative body to signal their opposition to the federal bill. Introduced by State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, the resolution “calls on Congress to maintain a provision in existing federal law preserving Congress’s intent not to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974, legislation designed to protect public water supplies.” Other states, including Alabama, North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas have taken up or passed similar resolutions.
The group claims heavier regulations of fracturing could force the closure of more than half of America’s oil wells, and a third of its gas wells, lead to $4 billion in lost revenue to the federal goverment and $785 to state treasuries. And since it was exempted from the Clean Water Act in 2005 there should be little to worry about, they say:

“If hydraulic fracturing were unsafe, unregulated, and largely unnecessary as a tool of producing American energy, Congress would have a good reason to step in, and states would have an even better one to step out,” said Lee Fuller, a spokesman for Energy In Depth, a new coalition of American oil and natural gas trade groups. “Clearly, that is not the case. And that’s why you’ve seen states from the Southeast to the Intermountain West stand up, shoulder-to-shoulder, and affirm their support for this safe, critical and increasingly valuable well stimulation technology”.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran a story on this a few years ago where they actually looked at the chemicals involved in fracturing up there. A bit of what they found:

The list seems to bear out the industry’s contention that drillers use mostly slick water. But 35 out of 55 compounds contain chemicals that are classified as health hazards.
Biocides, used to control bacteria that might grow in the drilling mud or the fracturing fluid, can also kill insects and leave the soil sterile if improperly handled.
Three of the polymers used to thicken the fracturing fluid can cause cancer either by themselves or because they might contain traces of other carcinogens. Several compounds include ester alcohol, which can harm animals and aquatic life.

Not much has happened with the bill since it was introduced last November save it being referred to the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials (which technically doesn’t exist anymore as it was merged with another committee into the Energy Subcommittee on Energy and Environment). You can keep track of it here.
Apparently this is called the Halliburton Loophole by critics of the drilling business. In a conversation we had today with Matt Simmons about a different topic, he also brought up concerns over hydraulic fracturing’s environmental costs. He noted how each well in the Barnett Shale uses an average of 5 million gallons of water.
“If that were to make it into the Edwards Aquifer Texas’ main source of potable water would be lost,” he said.