WASHINGTON – The federal government’s plan to impose fracking regulations on states where rules are already in place to govern the process based on local needs is a solution looking for a problem, western officials told a congressional panel on Wednesday.
The Interior Department’s actions would add unnecessary delays in the permitting process and create a duplicative and costly system for the natural gas industry as well as taxpayers, representatives from Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and New Mexico told the House Natural Resources Committee.
The panel argued that the final regulations that are expected to be announced in the coming weeks will impede on states’ rights, and pointed out that local government has successfully regulated more than 1.2 million hydraulic fracturing operations for 60 years.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) agreed with the panel and questioned the federal government’s ability to apply one set of rules across vastly different geographic localities.
“This is a rhetorical question, but does anyone here really believe that federal bureaucrats know more about state geology and state water than those who are already in the states?” Lamborn asked.
“I think it’s reasonable to assume that those who live in the states care just as much or more about the states than those who live here in Washington care about the states,” Lamborn said.
Given what he described as an exemplary safety record, new federal mandates are not necessary, said Alan Olson, a Montana state Senator.
“State rules specifically tailored to each state’s unique geologic and hydrologic conditions better protect the environment and groundwater than a one-size-fits-all federal rule,” Olson said.
“Despite the fact that states have been regulating hydraulic fracturing for over six decades with no cases of contamination of underground sources of drinking water, the federal government feels the need to step in with redundant regulations. The Department of the Interior cannot point to any incidents on public lands that would compel it to add duplicative regulations. Why (Interior) feels compelled to move forward with regulation that is uninformed by those scientific findings is not clear,” Olson said.
The western representatives said they were also concerned about water rights under the proposed rule, which could allow federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to impose water access, limitations or requirements.
Westerners argued that the proposed rules have underestimated the additional costs of the regulations at $11,000 per well. A separate analysis conducted by a private firm put the cost at nearly $254,000, while researchers at Oklahoma City University put the cost at $175,000 per well, or $370 million a year.
The cost to taxpayers is expected to be in the millions of dollars, and more than a billion dollars for the industry, opponents of the new rules said.
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the committee, said the federal red tape would threaten jobs and “flat out block energy security.”
“Hydraulic fracturing has been successfully regulated by states for decades,” Hastings said. “They have effectively and efficiently been able to manage this activity and ensure that it is done safely.”
“There have not been any confirmed reports of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing – a fact that former Obama administration EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and former BLM Director Bob Abbey have both acknowledged,” Hastings said.
Sara Kendall, director of the Western Organization of Resource Councils in Washington, D.C., testified in favor of the proposed new regulations and said requirements are also needed to force the natural gas industry to make public all of its testing activities.
Kendall said the burden of proof is on the industry to prove that it has not caused contamination, particularly in water supplies.
“Industry is fond of saying there is no documentation of contamination,” Kendall said. “I have not seen documentation that there is not any contamination.”
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said Kendall’s reasoning “gives me a headache.”
“That’s a very difficult burden,” Fleming said. “I can’t prove a pig has ever flown to Mars, but I highly suspect it has never done it.”
Kendall later backtracked and said the natural gas industry did not need to prove it did not contaminate, but maintained that baseline and ongoing water quality tests should be required and the results gathered in a public database.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) credited the Obama administration for the natural gas boom and said the federal government rules are needed to make sure the environment is protected.
“State regulations vary widely and the stringency of those requirements and efficacy varies as well, that’s why it’s important that a regulatory floor of safety measures are needed,” Holt said.
Since 2000, shale gas has gone from one percent of the nation’s gas supply to 25 percent. According to the American Gas Association, the U.S. has nearly 2,400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to power homes across the nation for nearly 600 years.