By Matthew Gravatt, Sierra Club
For decades, bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act have existed to protect our communities from dangerous pollution. But did you know that oil and gas companies are often able to get around these protections?
Thanks to provisions like the infamous “Halliburton Loophole,” the oil and gas industry has for too long been given free rein to pollute our air and water without being held accountable or held to the most basic transparency requirements. Now, Democrats in the House of Representatives are taking action to change that with the introduction of a set of bills — known as the “Frack Pack” — that would close these loopholes and end the special treatment of this polluting industry.
There’s never been a more important time to strengthen protections against the dangers of fracking. Right now, fracking occurs in nearly three dozen states, often in residential areas — near homes, schools, parks, and playgrounds. In fact, an estimated 12.6 million people live within a half mile of an active oil and gas well, compressor, or processor. These activities expose our communities to dangerous pollutants associated with cancer, respiratory diseases, reproductive problems, birth defects, neurological damage, and other serious illnesses. They also contribute to climate change: Fracking releases massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon.
Despite these threats to our health and our climate, the oil and gas industry continues to get special treatment and freedom to skirt bedrock laws meant to keep us safe. The five bills that make up the “Frack Pack” will close these loopholes and help protect the environment and public health from the risks of fracking:
Sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette (CO), the FRAC Act would close the “Halliburton Loophole” that exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act and require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking.
Sponsored by Reps. Yvette Clarke (NY) and Joe Neguse (CA), the BREATHE Act closes loopholes in the Clean Air Act that allow the oil and gas industry to evade standards for hazardous air pollution that other industries are required to follow.
Sponsored by Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA), the FRESHER Act would close a loophole in the Clean Water Act that exempts the oil and gas industry from critical water pollution protections and endangers water quality in rivers, streams, wetlands, and other waterways near oil and gas production activities.
Also sponsored by Rep. Cartwright, the CLEANER Act would close a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that exempts toxic waste from oil and gas activities from hazardous waste requirements.
Sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL), the SHARED Act would require testing of water sources near planned oil and gas operations before fracking begins so that oil and gas companies can be held accountable for any water contamination they cause.
Oil and gas companies should be held to the same standards as those in any other industry and be held accountable when they put the health and safety of our families at risk.
The Trump administration may be doing everything it can to roll back protections and smooth the way for fossil fuel companies to operate with impunity, but it’s exciting to see our champions in Congress stepping up and doing important work to hold polluting industries accountable and protect our air, water, and health.
As oil and gas operations continue to threaten our climate, public health, air, and water resources, it is time to update the laws that have given the fossil fuel industry a free pass to pollute.