HEELING - Those who oppose the practice of hydraulic fracturing to access natural gas often blame the so-called "Halliburton Loophole" for protecting fracking from federal regulation.
However, Armando Benincasa, a lawyer for Steptoe & Johnson, said Wednesday the 2005 Federal Energy Policy Act only made the exemption for oil and gas exploration official.
"The 2005 law put into legislation what had been up to that time the accepted (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) policy/interpretation that oil and gas exploration activities were not subject to the restrictions of the Safe Drinking Water Act," Benincasa said following Steptoe & Johnson's Wednesday "webinar" on the topic. A webinar is basically a lecture that is broadcast via the Internet.
"Oil and gas exploration were never intended to be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act," he added.
Fracking takes place after gas drillers bore horizontal shafts deep into the earth. Millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are then forced down the hole at high pressure, which breaks apart the Marcellus Shale and releases some of the the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas trapped in the formation. Some have called into question the chemicals used in fracking, raising concern that they could, either now or in the future, find their way into underground water tables and contaminate water sources.
Republican strategist Karl Rove recently told natural gas industry leaders in Pittsburgh that the newly elected GOP House will ensure the U.S. EPA will not be able to regulate fracking. Rove also stressed this would ensure the Halliburton Loophole - named for the petroleum services giant - stays open.
U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., during the current congressional session introduced the "Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act" - more commonly known as the FRAC Act - to allow the EPA to oversee the process, thereby closing the loophole.
Another aspect of the FRAC Act calls for requiring companies such as Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources and Halliburton to disclose the chemicals they use for fracking. Many of these companies, however, have already revealed this information, Benincasa said.