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Natural Resources Committee Maintains Aggressive Oversight of Obama Administration's Overregulation of Hydraulic Fracturing

The Obama Administration’s Interior Department is one step closer to imposing new federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing on federal lands—a long standing drilling technique that is necessary to extract oil and natural gas from shale reservoirs.

A draft copy of the new regulations, reported last Thursday by Politico, show that the Obama Administration is preparing to add significant red tape and delays to the job creating energy production that comes from harnessing U.S. shale gas resources. Chairman Hastings noted:

At his State of the Union address President Obama talked about eliminating regulations that don’t work and add unnecessary burdens to American businesses, but here is yet another new regulation that drives us in the exact opposite direction. This draft document reveals that the Obama Administration is planning to impose new job-destroying regulations on the use of hydraulic fracturing technology on federal lands that will add significant barriers to the production of natural gas—one of America’s most promising and abundant energy resources. This regulation continues President Obama’s long record of restricting American energy production at a cost of lost jobs, higher prices and a prolonged dependence on foreign energy.”

Hydraulic fracturing has been effectively regulated by states for over 60 years and is responsible for 30 percent of our domestic oil and natural gas production. From the first moment Secretary Salazar in November 2010 mentioned possible new federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, House Natural Resources Committee Republicans have conducted aggressive oversight on this issue:

  • On December 1, 2010, Chairman Hastings immediately sent Secretary Salazar a letter expressing his deep concern over the potential plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing and the Department’s apparent decision to act unilaterally without input from local elected officials, stakeholders, or Congress.; Hastings’ letter also asked that Secretary Salazar appear before the House Natural Resources Committee to “provide testimony and answer questions” before “unilaterally implement[ing] this policy.” Over a month later, on January 10, 2011, Secretary Salazar responded to Chairman Hastings’ letter assuring him that if the Department moved forward with hydraulic fracturing requirements, they would do so “in a fashion that fully considers public and Congressional concerns.”
  • On July, 8, 2011, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a joint oversight hearing with the Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, on: “Challenges facing Domestic Oil and Gas Development: Review of Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service Ban of Horizontal Drilling on Federal Lands.” Banning horizontal drilling is a de facto way to ban hydraulic fracturing as any significant oil and natural gas production depend on the two technologies being used together. Currently, the Obama Administration’s U.S. Forest Service is considering a ban on horizontal drilling in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest, where there is shale natural gas.
  • On October, 11, 2011, responding to a comment Secretary Salazar made at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that DOI would issue hydraulic fracturing rules “within a month or so,” Chairman Hastings sent a follow-up letter to Secretary Salazar. The letter reiterated Chairman Hastings’ previous request to testify before the Committee before unilaterally imposing new hydraulic fracturing regulations that could have significant impacts on “jobs, communities, revenues, states, and our economy.”
  • On November, 16, 2011, Secretary Salazar finally appeared before the Natural Resources Committee at an oversight hearing on, “The Future of U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Development on Federal Lands and Waters.” For the first time, Secretary Salazar provided testimony on hydraulic fracturing but refused to give any details about when he expected DOI to produce draft regulations.

Exclusive: First glimpse of fracking rules
The rules would require operators to seek approval for fracking operations and lay out a record-keeping structure.
By TALIA BUFORD | 2/2/12 6:35 PM EST

Draft Interior Department regulations would require natural gas operators on public lands to disclose the “complete chemical makeup” of any proposed fracking fluids, as well as the amounts they’re using, according to a copy obtained by POLITICO.

Operators could claim an exemption from the disclosure requirement only by identifying laws that either already require disclosure or specifically protect the information.

The rules would also require operators to seek approval for fracking operations and lay out a record-keeping structure to document compliance.

The draft document provides the first real glimpse into a cadre of regulations that Interior has been considering for months. The department has been tight-lipped about details, although Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said they will cover well-bore integrity, fracking fluid disclosure and flowback waters.

The department has no projected date for the draft’s official release. But on Thursday, spokesman Adam Fetcher provided a bit more detail about what Salazar and the department hope to achieve with the rules, based on preliminary input from the industry, other groups and the public.

“Those measures are straightforward: 1) requiring public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, with appropriate protections for trade secrets; 2) improving assurances on well-bore integrity so we know fluids going into the well aren’t escaping; and 3) making sure companies have a water management plan in place for fluids that flow back to the surface,” Fetcher said.

“We will continue to gather public input throughout this process to ensure that the disclosure rule enhances public confidence in hydraulic fracturing on public lands, while also encouraging continued safe and responsible exploration and production for many decades to come,” he said.

But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) called the draft a recipe for “new job-destroying regulations,” which “will add significant barriers to the production of natural gas — one of America’s most promising and abundant energy resources.”

“This regulation continues President Obama’s long record of restricting American energy production at a cost of lost jobs, higher prices and a prolonged dependence on foreign energy,” Hastings added.

Under the draft proposal:

  • Thirty days before operations begin at a proposed well, the operator must submit a report that includes the ingredients of the fracking fluids, the origins of the water being used and a fluid treatment plan.
  • Operators will have to disclose all additives in the proposed fracking fluids, including the additives’ trade name and purpose. The report must also disclose “the complete chemical makeup” of all materials used in the fluids.
  • Operators will be required to test well casings to “the maximum anticipated treating pressure.” The test will be considered successful if the casing can sustain the pressure for 30 minutes with no more than 10 percent pressure loss.
  • The operator must also record the pressure in the area between the pipe and the casing and submit a log of that pressure to Interior. An “authorized officer” must be notified within 24 hours if the pressure increases by more than 500 pounds per square inch, and a report on the incident must be submitted within 24 hours.
  • All recovered fluids must be stored in tanks or lined pits, but officials can also require “additional measures to ensure protection of wildlife or other resources.” Operators will also be required to provide a proposed plan to handle and dispose of flowback fluids, as well as an estimated volume of fluid they expect to recover.

In his State of the Union Speech last week, President Barack Obama pointed to shale gas as a key energy resource for the nation, and hinted at hydraulic fracturing without mentioning that term outright.

Obama also promised that “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk,” and said all companies drilling for gas on public lands would have to disclose the chemicals they use.

But for months before the speech, Interior has been working to draft the regulations to make that happen.

Along the way, Interior said the rules have been shaped by December meetings with regional and local members of the Bureau of Land Management, as well as January consultations with American Indian tribe members in Tulsa, Salt Lake City, Billings, Mont., and Farmington, N.M.

Once Interior incorporates the feedback into the proposed rules, a formal copy of the draft regulations will be released and open to public comment. Industry, states and citizens will then be able to submit their thoughts.