Politics: Fracking Loopholes

March 2013

There are plenty of things you should know about fracking. (We recently covered a handful of them.) Things like, first and foremost, what the f*#$ is fracking, is it safe, and who does it affect? (Note: "fracking" is shorthand for “hydraulic fracturing,” a process used to extract oil and gas locked in dense rock formations thousands of feet beneath Earth’s surface.) But here's a biggie: The Environmental Protection Agency—the key federal department tasked with protecting our environment—doesn't regulate fracking. Congressman Jared Polis, along with Congressman Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, is trying to change that. 

The provision that exempts fracking from the rules of the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act is known as the Halliburton Loophole—former Halliburton executive Dick Cheney was vice president when the exemption was approved. In the past, Congresswoman Diana DeGette has introduced legislation to close this loophole. This week, Polis proposed his own piece of legislation that aims to close loopholes that also exist in the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.

"New technologies have led to the rapid development of hydraulic fracturing in Colorado and Pennsylvania before community members could fully understand the potential health, safety, and quality of life implications of drilling in their neighborhood,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) in a statement. “Through the BREATHE Act and the FRESHER  Act, we want to make sure that fracking is not exempt from the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act simply because fracking was not prevalent when these laws were initially written. These bills update health and safety protections that have traditionally had strong bi-partisan support and ensure gas industry accountability.”

Who knows what kind of votes Polis can drum up for these bills, but his acknowledgment that we have yet to fully understand the potential health and safety impacts of fracking is an important one to make.