Special Topics in Environmental Management

Election 2012: Where Do the Candidates Stand on Hydraulic Fracturing?

Where do the candidates stand on EHS issues?


Issue: Hydraulic Fracturing
By Amanda Czepiel, J.D. , BLR Water Expert

Barack Obama: Supports the practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking”, stating, ” We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.” However, President Obama supports an increase in federal oversight of fracking.  His current administration has proposed a rule that would require petroleum companies to disclose the chemicals they pump underground during the fracking process. The proposed rule was amended to state that disclosure is not required to be made until after drilling has been completed. The original rule required disclosure before drilling.


Mitt Romney: Supports regulating fracking as other energy-extraction practices are regulated, without additional federal oversight. According to Romney’s 2011 “Believe in America” plan, “the EPA in a Romney Administration will not pursue overly aggressive interventions designed to discourage fracking altogether.” Romney’s plan supports state oversight; however his plan also states that a disclosure rule is a “step in the right direction”, but that “the environmental impact of fracking should be not considered in the abstract, but rather evaluated in comparison to the impact of utilizing the fuels that natural gas displaces, including coal.”

The Facts: Hydraulic fracturing

The United States has vast reserves of natural gas that are now commercially viable through the practices of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, processes that involve the injection of large volumes of water, sand or other propping agent, and specialized chemicals under pressure to fracture the formations that hold oil or gas.  However, there is hot debate on whether such practices contribute to the contamination of groundwater drinking supplies and disposal of toxic wastewater problems, and whether those environmental concerns outweigh the promise of cheaper domestic energy and job and wealth creation. The EPA has undertaken a national study to understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, but the final report is not expected to be released until 2014, well after this November’s election.

Water is an integral part of the hydraulic fracturing process. The EPA protects drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which has provisions for the protection of underground sources of drinking water under the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. That program regulates the subsurface emplacement of fluid; however, the SDWA specifically excludes “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.” Therefore, the UIC program does not have the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, although the use of diesel fuel in the process is regulated under the program. Any entity that performs hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuel must receive EPA authorization before commencing production.

Some members of Congress have called for a repeal of the hydraulic fracturing exemption under the SDWA. Other members of Congress have proposed bills that would state that only states have the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal lands within their borders. Clearly, this is a hotly contested debate that will be at the forefront of the federal environmental agenda for both parties. For now, the federal government has very limited authority, and some states have stepped in, establishing fracking regulations.

Additional Resources:

Amanda Czepiel, J.D., is a Legal Editor for BLR’s environmental law publications. Ms. Czepiel has over 6 years of experience as an attorney and writer in the field of environmental compliance resources and has published numerous articles on a variety of environmental law topics, including wastewater and NPDES permitting, brownfields and contaminated sites remediation, oil spill prevention, wetlands, and corporate sustainability. Before starting her career in publishing, Ms. Czepiel worked in hospitality consulting and for various non-profit organizations and government agencies in the environmental field. Ms. Czepiel received her law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.

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