Washington, D.C. – A method of drilling oil and gas practiced in Nebraska is becoming increasingly controversial nationwide with many residents complaining about water contamination. But legislation on Capitol Hill to increase regulation of the practice is stalled amid industry opposition.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking'; involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and some chemicals deep into the ground. It's popular in states like Pennsylvania with massive deposits of natural gas found in rock formations deep underground. "It's the only way that you can get the gas out of there and the benefits of the gas are enormous," said Daniel Whitten with America's Natural Gas Alliance, an industry group.
Nebraska is not among the major natural gas producing states. Numbers from 2007 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks the state 26th in natural gas production. But state officials say hydraulic fracturing does occur because the gas the state does have can be difficult to get to. Environmentalists are calling for more disclosure of the chemicals used and tougher federal oversight amid pollution concerns. "State regulations vary quite widely. In some places they may be strong enough, in some places they are clearly not. We believe there should be a minimal federal floor of regulation," said Amy Mall with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The energy industry and many local officials are resisting new federal rules, saying states are better suited to look over hydraulic fracturing and understand local needs. Plus, despite the ongoing debate, the industry and some experts deny there is hard evidence of contamination. "I think part of what we need to do is educate people, talk to stakeholders and policy makers, leaders in different communities and show then how we do what we do and demonstrate to them the safety of the process we use," Whitten said.
So far no Nebraska or Iowa lawmakers are co-sponsoring the so-called FRAC Act' in Congress. Parts of the legislation have been attached to energy bills that have stalled on Capitol Hill and passage during the upcoming post-election lame duck' session is uncertain.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joined a letter opposing new federal rules. Rep. Terry has gotten more than $42,000 connected to the oil and gas industry this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Meanwhile, as lawmakers debate the issue, the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in to comprehensively study hydraulic fracturing.