Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Legislators who've been pushing a bill to regulate a controversial natural gas drilling process are now calling for further scientific study, a change in tack made under intense lobbying pressure and after a personal request from Colorado's Democratic governor.
If the lawmakers wait for the results of a study, the bill is unlikely to move forward any time soon.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., two of the sponsors of the so-called FRAC Act (PDF), a House bill that would establish federal environmental controls over the process of hydraulic fracturing, are now calling for committee hearings and renewed research into the environmental impacts of the drilling method. Last month, Hinchey attached a provision authorizing funding for such a study to a House appropriations bill.
In an interview this week, Hinchey told ProPublica he is not backing off the FRAC Act. He said he is concerned about new reports of water contamination from drilling and thinks a study could bring those incidents to the forefront of the debate.
"What we want to do is make it clear what is going on," Hinchey said. "The appropriations bill is an incremental step. It will continue to focus attention on this."
Asked whether the FRAC Act is losing momentum, Hinchey pointed out that the bill now has 13 sponsors, 10 more than it had in June. But he acknowledged that the energy industry's opposition to the bill has swayed some members of Congress. "It's not moving forward with the rapidity that I would like to see it move forward," he said.
That may be in part because of the difficulties of bringing diverse perspectives together on energy and economic issues, including within the Democratic Party.
In a speech Thursday before the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a prominent industry trade group, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, assured the group of his support for the natural gas businesses and said he had asked DeGette not to pursue the legislation.
"I encouraged Congresswoman DeGette to consider authorizing a comprehensive study of this issue instead of going directly to a new and potentially intrusive regulatory program," the governor said. "She agreed at that time to go instead to something that would be more in the way of a study instead of an amendment that would prescribe a certain way of every state having to put in place these rules. I thank the congresswoman for having done that."...(Remainder.)