Hydrofracturing in oil production draws federal scrutiny

A congressional oversight hearing will convene today to take a critical look at the oil and gas production process of hydraulic fracturing, a move that has put the industry on alert.

Environmental groups and some U.S. representatives have cited safety concerns about the process, also known as hydrofracturing, and have called for the process to come under federal regulation.

But industry leaders and state officials say there's no cause for alarm and that states have proven they are capable of keeping an eye on the technology that has been widely used for 50 years.

In addition, the industry says adding a layer of regulations would cost the federal government $4 billion and state governments $785 million in lost revenue. The bite out of Kansas tax revenues would be $63 million, according to Energy In Depth, a coalition of the nation's producers.

"Basically, what these environmental groups are saying is that no law but federal law can regulate the oil and gas industry," said Ed Cross, president of Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association. "But the states have done a good job of regulating the industry. They're the ones closest to the scene, the ones on the ground."

As part of its look at the potential of the nation's gas shale plays, the House Natural Resource subcommittee is expected to delve into hydrofracturing. Hydrofracturing is used in 60 to 80 percent of the nation's wells, including those in Kansas.

The technology has been used since 1949 to increase well production. One of the first uses came in the Hugoton natural gas field in southwestern Kansas in the 1950s.

Hydrofracturing involves pumping a fluid-sand mixture into rock formations where oil or gas is trapped. The fluid is usually all water, but it can contain chemical additives.

The pressure of the fluid creates tiny fissures in the rock. The sands holds the fissures open, allowing the oil or gas to escape and flow up the well.

Safety concerns revolve around disposing of hydrofracturing material, the possibility of it leaking into underground drinking water and the fluid blowing back up on the surface.

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