Energy. Environment. Economy.

Federal Legislation Aims to Close “Fracking Loopholes”

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

An active drill site in Tioga County.

Pennsylvania Representative Matthew Cartwright (D-17) has introduced legislation to remove oil and gas industry exemptions from the federal Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Cartwright is from Scranton, and his district stretches over six counties including Schuylkill, Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, and Northampton County.

The “FRESHER” Act would remove federal regulatory exemptions related to storm water run-off at drill sites. And the “BREATHE” Act would require air emissions generated by the oil and gas industry be subject to federal aggregation regulations.

“The lack of oversight and permitting of storm water in the oil and gas industry represents a danger to the nation’s waterways and other key assets. This is especially true in areas where hydraulic fracturing has increased in prevalence,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright in a press release. “Both of these pieces of legislation are common sense and I urge my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to get on board.”

The BREATHE Act stands for “Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effect,” and the FRESHER Act is an acronym for “Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydraulic Environmental Regulation.”

Congress enacted the Clean Water Act back in 1972 as a way to regulate discharges into the country’s rivers and streams. The CWA was amended in 1987 to include storm water run-off. But oil and gas production are exempted from those regulations. And through the 2005 Energy Policy Act, those exemptions include oil and gas construction. Environmentalists worry about run-off from well pads, pipelines and construction sites.

The Clean Air Act, passed by Congress in 1970, exempts oil and gas wells from aggregation. That means each well site is considered an individual source of pollutants, and does not take into account all of the well sites in a specific area.


  • KittatinyHawk

    One only has to read Halliburton loophole and know how Cheney this is….Lawyers and loopholes, too bad they do not hang themselves on them.

  • Patrick Henderson

    Ms. Phillips article is not only misleading, it is factually wrong. She states, without any citation, that oil and gas activities are exempted from the federal Clean Water Act’s regulation of discharges into rivers and streams, as well as stormwater runoff. This is 100% false. It implies that these activities may legally pollute with impunity. In fact, oil and gas activities are prohibited under both the federal Clean Water Act and the state Clean Streams Law from polluting or degrading streams, rivers and other waterways. In Pennsylvania, this is implemented through erosion and sediment control permits and standards that must be adhered to, as well as post-construction stormwater discharge controls. And thanks to Act 13, signed by Governor Corbett, there is now a mandatory, on-site inspection after installation of these controls at a well pad and prior to commencing drilling activity. It is more than ironic that, on one hand, StateImpact goes to great lengths to document violations of operators when they impact waterways, yet simultaneously publishes an article which states they are….exempt from the law.

    The reporting that oil and gas activities are “exempt” from regulations that protect rivers and streams is simply wrong; the failure to report the actual standards and requirements in place is simply misleading. Readers deserve accurate information, not misinformation. Particularly when StateImpact knows better.

    Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive
    Office of Gov. Tom Corbett

    • Susan Phillips

      Patrick, the proposed legislation, and my article, specifically refers to federal exemptions, not state laws. And I wrote clearly that the exemptions the legislation refer to are related to storm water run-off. Here’s the EPA’s explanation:

      • Scott Miller

        Susan, it seems like you are playing semantics. The legislation and your article completely ignore information that directly relates to this issue in Pennsylvania. Patrick provided the information you probably know but did not provide to your readers. Are you saying we should not have counted on State Impact PA to provide appropriate context? Are you saying it is OK for the federal government to make it look like state governments are not properly involved? Why did you ignore the fact that these issues in Pennsylvania are dealt with at the state level? This is State Impact “PA” right? Lastly, I wonder who Rep. Cartwright is really representing with this.

        • Concerned in PA

          You’re talking about the Pennsylvania regulators that have admitted to not disclosing all of their findings when doing water tests yet you don’t see a problem with them? The federal government needs to get involved because the states have taken too much $$ from the industry to properly regulate them any more.

          • Scott Miller

            DEP does not do predrill testing. The companies hire certified labs to do it. The DEP testing to which you refer (while hiding behind a fake name on a news site and lecturing people about transparency) used a standard laboratory protocol to report on drilling components. The test was performed on a well that sits in the middle of a decades old salvage yard. The components not included are not used in drilling (but are common in junk yards). The person who owns the salvage yard and filed the complaint is a serial litigant and the people who want to make the case look like anything other than the shakedown it is have a vested interested in making DEP look like it can’t do its job. I choose to believe the scientists who weigh in on it rather than enviro-hucksters like yourself, Concerned in PA. And though you have tried to justify this story’s failure to provide adequate context, all you have really done is accuse Susan of using her position as a journalist to surreptitiously support federal regulation over state regulation. Shame on you.

  • Betsi Townsend

    Mr Henderson & Mr Miller I suggest you read more carefully- the article is well written and not misleading. Rep Cartwright is a US Congressman, introducing federal legislation. The Clean Air & Clean Water Acts are both federal legislation. PA is not the only state to deal with these issues. I commend the congressman for being concerned about the big picture- that’s his job.

  • amy

    you might want to include that HR 1154 (Breathe Act) was introduced by Jared Polis (D-CO)

    • Ted Pen Lee

      At first, I thought you was being sarcastic, but HR 1154 (Breathe Act) is a really good reference. Thanks.
      I’m guessing you already know about Waxman’s “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing,” but I’m throwing it out there anyway just in case. It has similar language witht the “Dysfunction” and Groat’s “Regulation-based”. I haven’t followed the documentation for “Dysfunction” but Groat’s paper should qualify as a yellow yard for not giving full citation to “Chemicals Used.” Calling it the Waxman’s report in the footnote as secondary referencing to another part of the paper, and not giving a primary reference to the actual “Chemicals Used” paper does not properly accredit the origin report.

  • Ted Pen Lee

    Also worth noting is the loophole within the loophole for diesel (containing benzene, toulene, ethylbenzene and xylem) in fracking fluid, as per interpetation of Markey’s “Drilling Dysfunction: How the Failure to Oversee Drilling on Public Lands Endangers Health and the Environment.” Looking directly at 2005 Energy Bill appears as a double negative for diesel fracking. Markey suggest that SDWA still has authority over the diesel fracking: 1) operators require permits and 2) regulators must be notified about the use of diesel.
    Taken altogether, this implies a red herring stragety on the parts of frackers standing by their nondisclosure claim due to patent right infringement. It could be they are afraid of awarding retroactive damages to injured parties.

  • Char Ormsby

    I really hope these get pass the fracking backed republicans who seem to be the ones who blocks any kind of progress for protecting the American public from fracking. Also please feel free to use my research on the negative impacts the fracking sectors are having on America, American public & our future: The public needs to take action or else Americans will pay with our future for the sole purpose of protecting the fracking companies profits. CharO

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »