Oil Giants Propose Limiting Federal Oversight of Fracturing

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"If incorporated into the law, it would keep the EPA from imposing regulations on fracturing."

BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell have provided Senate lawmakers with language to include in a pending climate change bill that essentially would block federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing, a technology that's key to the current natural gas drilling boom.

The companies prepared the document, according to sources familiar with it, at the request of the Senate team that is drafting climate change law.

If incorporated into the climate change law, it would keep the EPA from imposing regulations on fracturing, which is now regulated at the state level.

The document recommends that states adopt standards for disclosing the contents of hydraulic fracturing chemicals "to health professionals or state agencies" in order to protect health or environmental safety but maintain "the confidentiality of trade secret information" in the fluids.

It also encourages states to evaluate drilling practices to see if they comply with new American Petroleum Institute standards for well construction and integrity.

Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling into a formation and injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals under high pressure. The mixture cracks open the shale while the sand holds open the fractures, allowing the natural gas to flow more freely to the surface.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the enormous amounts of water used in the process, and about possible chemical contamination of water supplies near fracturing sites.

A copy of the proposal the Houston Chronicle received is labeled "Sense of the Senate Language," meaning it would be legally nonbinding. Rather, it is intended to give guidance to regulators regarding the true intent of a congressional action absent explicit mandates.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said his company believes hydraulic fracturing has a safe track record.

"We support disclosure of the contents of fracking fluids and are confident that the states can come up with disclosure rules that answer everyone's needs," Dean said.

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