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Tennessee Passes First Fracking Laws

On May 22, a legislative committee approved Tennessee’s first regulations for the practice of oil and natural gas extraction known as “fracking.” The legislation passed despite complaints from several environment advocacy groups that the rules don’t go far enough to protect the state’s water and land or the people whose health and well-being depend on both.

Now that the laws have passed, the proposed motion to require public disclosure of all chemicals used in the fracking process is basically defunct. With its passing have also disappeared mandates to conduct periodic testing of water wells within a mile of fracking sites and mandatory filings of plans for safe disposal of waste water.

TN Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said the final vote showed “the position of this committee is to do just what the industry wants.”

Fracking is not new in Tennessee, but until recently it involved smaller operations using minimal amounts of water mixed with nitrogen gas; accordingly, fracking permits were no different than those issued for standard oil wells.

As fracking operations have exploded in other states, however, drillers have taken to pumping millions of gallons of chemically treated water into deep underground wells in order to crack shale deposits and allow gas and oil to flow out for collection. New Tennessee rules anticipate the expansion of in-state operations by adding additional requirements for drillers using more than 200,000 gallons of water in their operations.

Included in these rules are mandates for testing of water wells within a half mile of fracking sites and disclosure of chemicals not considered to be “trade secrets.” That information would only need to be disclosed in the event of a spill of fluids.

Responding to the industry-friendly legislation, representatives from the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, the Tennessee Clean Water Network, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Coalition for a Frack-Free Tennessee said that the rules must be modified if they are expected to protect the environment and the public.