Even as the oil and gas industry is raking in astonishing profits (Exxon’s profit alone totaled $30.5 billion last year), it is benefiting from a number of loopholes in our nation’s landmark environmental laws that put our lands, water, and air at risk. By our count, the oil and gas industry is exempt from key provisions of at least seven laws designed to protect the public and our special places.
Luckily, a handful of champions in Congress have begun to remedy this problem. This past week, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (“FRAC Act”) was re-introduced by Representatives DeGette, Hinchey, and Polis in the House, and Senators Casey and Schumer in the Senate. This bill would remove an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act that oil and gas enjoys, thereby requiring EPA to determine how to regulate drilling under this important environmental law. Additionally, the FRAC Act would require companies to publicly disclosure the chemicals they inject underground during drilling or “hydraulic fracturing.” This is a much-needed development; in a recent survey we found that only one state requires full public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, despite industry’s claims that states are doing a sufficient job policing this issue. The FRAC Act already has 33 co-sponsors in the House and 7 in the Senate, and TWS will be working to increase this number.
Also introduced this past week was a bill to close a loophole for the oil and gas industry in the Clean Air Act. The Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effects Act (“BREATHE Act”) would require individual oil and gas wells to be aggregated for “major source” emissions limits under the Clean Air Act. This would compel industry to use best available technology for controlling emissions, which can actually be profitable—for example, companies can sell “fugitive’ natural gas that is now often simply vented into the atmosphere or burned off, causing local air pollution problems and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Representatives Polis, Hinchey, and Holt are responsible for creating this brand-new bill to address a long-term problem, which especially affects communities out West. Indeed, some “gas patch” towns in the West have been found to have air pollution higher than Los Angeles.
The oil and gas industry should be subject to the same laws as all other industries in our country such as transportation and construction. Why should the oil and gas industry be treated differently from those industries?