How to Fix Hydrofracking

Hydrofracking’s dangers arise from its lack of regulation. The fluids used in hydrofracking have been known to infiltrate ground water supplies and contribute to air pollution. Companies that use hydrofracking, however, have not been required to disclose which chemicals they use since a 2005 revision of the Energy Policy Act. As a result, local reports of public drinking water contamination have grown exponentially over the last few years. A recent documentary, Gasland, emphasizes the dangers of unregulated hydrofracking. Most controversially, the film shows multiple families lighting their own tap water on fire.

In addition, it has recently been discovered that corruption has kept the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the hydrofracking industry. A three-part investigative series in the New York Times this March illuminates these problems, which range from censoring of scientific reports by special interests within and outside the E.P.A., to a questionable amendment of the Safe Drinking Water Act that exempted hydrofracking from E.P.A. regulation.

The solution suggested below consists of three parts. First, Congress must reintroduce and push through the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act. The passage of the FRAC Act would allow the E.P.A. to regulate hydrofracking once again by repealing the industry’s recent exemption from the Safe Water Drinking Act. The E.P.A. must regain this power before it can have any hope of regulation. In light of the increased media attention on hydrofracking in the past months, there is no time like the present to attempt to make this act a law.

Second, President Obama should declare a national moratorium on hydrofracking until the release of a new report by the E.P.A. Scheduled for next year, this report will investigate the effects of hydrofracking upon water and air pollution as well as human health. The moratorium would have two beneficial effects. First, it would stop hydrofracking until its effects are properly understood. Second, it would significantly increase the attention given by the national media to hydrofracking. This increased media attention would allow for the dissemination of information on hydrofracking to occur throughout America, thus leading to higher national focus. While a moratorium would obviously have negative effects on employment, it would ultimately be in the best interests of America to eliminate hydrofracking until a clear, objective study has been published.

Finally, America must increase the openness and accountability of these studies. Two avenues should be taken to complete this endeavor. First, the E.P.A. should create a temporary ethics board to analyze the study and make sure of its objectivity. The appointment of members to this board could be a much more transparent process than the study itself, thus allowing for a bipartisan, objective board to be created to investigate the much more complex and closed-door study. Second, the Obama administration should also supply additional funding to certain states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, that have seemingly been most affected by hydrofracking. These states could then create and release independent reports on hydrofracking. Such reports would create multiple perspectives. They would also, if their findings match that of the E.P.A., increase the accountability of the report and help give us a comprehensive picture of the effects of hydrofracking.

In summary, the field of hydrofracking has much mystery surrounding it. The lack of accountability on the part of natural gas companies and the presence of corruption within the E.P.A., however, allow this mystery to go unexamined. As such, a three-pronged strategy of passing the FRAC Act, declaring a moratorium on hydrofracking, and increasing the transparency of scientific studies on hydrofracking, would allow for the effects of hydrofracking to ultimately be determined and dealt with.