Democrats turned on one another Wednesday night and voted against an amendment that would have given the federal government the power to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, occurring on state and private lands.
New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s amendment to “modify the definition of underground injection” was soundly defeated 63 to 35, with 10 Democrats joining Republicans in opposing the measure. These Senate Democrats included Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jon Tester of Montana,Claire McCaskill of Arkansas and Mark Warner of Virginia.
The vote presents a huge problem for Democrats hell bent on regulating fracking and pushing climate policies in that a sizable group of lawmakers are pro-oil and gas development. This also poses a problem for President Obama’s agenda to make more federal lands off limits to drilling.
“The failure to pass Sen. Gillibrand’s (D-NY) Amendment to S.1 is a clear message from the U.S. Senate of broad bipartisan support to keep regulation of hydraulic fracturing in the capable hands of the states and out of the grasp of the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and their War on Fossil Fuels,” said Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Gillibrand’s bill would have changed a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that gives states the exclusive right to regulate fracking occurring on state and private lands. Democrats have long wanted to gut this provision, known as the “Halliburton loophole,” to allow federal agencies to regulate the well-stimulation technique. The amendment would have also imposed federal rules on natural gas storage.
Fracking is a well-stimulation technique in which sand, water and small amounts of chemicals are used to crack open rock formations more than one mile underground to unleash previously unrecoverable oil and natural gas. Fracking, combined with horizontal drilling, has caused a U.S. oil and gas boom.
The recent plunge in oil and gasoline prices has been attributed to U.S. fracking, along with weaker global economic growth which has reduced oil demand. Currently low oil prices are hitting oil companies hard, but low gas prices have been a boon to consumers and businesses.
“Hydraulic fracturing is responsible for leading the American manufacturing resurgence, creating thousands of well-paying jobs, lowering prices of energy for our families, and driving us towards energy independence,” Inhofe said.
Democrats and environmentalists, however, argue that fracking contaminates groundwater supplies and degrades air quality. They also say increased oil and natural gas drilling is exacerbating global warming.
Gillibrand was attempting to attach her fracking amendment to a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Democrats who plan on voting against Keystone’s approval anyways have been introducing amendments to curb fossil fuel use and push global warming policies.
“This project has many risks and few advantages, and I will be voting against it, but if this legislation does pass in the Senate, we should at least try to make it a better bill,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “There is no excuse why we can’t turn the Keystone XL Pipeline Act into an opportunity to protect our clean drinking water, and ensure that polluters have to pay to clean up their own messes.”
Dozens of amendments have been introduced by Democrats to derail the Keystone bill — which would approve a major pipeline that would bring oil sands from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Republicans have also introduced their own amendments to boost energy production and reign in federal environmental regulations.
The Senate is expected to make its final vote on the Keystone XL bill Thursday afternoon if enough lawmakers vote to end the amendment process.