House Plans To Roadblock Federal Fracking Oversight On Wednesday

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

In this Dec. 5, 2012 photo, the sun sets behind an oil pump jack and the Rocky Mountains near Fredrick, Colo.

The federal government would have no authority over hydraulic fracturing in states that have their own fracking laws, if legislation set to be heard by the House this week is passed into law.

On Wednesday, lawmakers will consider HR 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act. Proposed by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would made fracking a states-only game. Unless a state has not passed any laws regarding fracking, the U.S. Department of Interior — the agency responsible for conservation of most federal land and natural resources — would have no say in whether companies disclose chemicals in fracking fluid; whether water that comes back up from fracked wells is polluted; or whether people can request public hearings on fracking permit applications.

Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting fossil fuels that generally increases the flow of oil or gas from a well. It is done by injecting high-pressure water and chemicals miles deep into the ground into subsurface rock, effectively “fracturing” the rock and allowing more spaces for oil and gas to come through. The tactic is generally paired with horizontal drilling.

The process can turn previously unproductive shale into large natural gas fields, but it is extremely controversial. Top climate scientists recently sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) to issue a fracking moratorium because of carbon emissions, groundwater contamination, and the massive amount of water required to frack a well. Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch once described the process as “a giant pipe bomb four or five miles underground.”

Rep. Flores introduced the bill in July as an attempt to avoid draft regulations from the Obama regulations to regulate the fracking performed by the oil and gas industry. Those rules would require companies to make sure that fluids from the fracking process aren’t contaminating groundwater, and mandates that those companies have management plans for large volumes of wastewater that flows back to the surface throughout the fracking process.

The Obama administration released an official statement on Tuesday lambasting the bill, saying it would undermine efforts to work with states and American Indian tribes to establish “a uniform baseline level of appropriate environmental protection.” The statement noted that under current rules proposed by the Bureau of Land Management, states would be able to follow their own fracking regulations “so long as they meet or exceed those standards included in the proposed Federal regulations.”

“If the President were presented with H.R. 2728, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill,” the statement said.

If the bill were signed into law, states like California and Illinois might be on their way to fracking sovereignty. Both states released proposed rules for fracking on Friday, which would allow the practice to continue but would regulate it more than other states. The California rules require monitoring of well water before and after companies drill, and mandate that names and concentrations of the chemicals used in fracking be made public.

North Carolina, Maryland, and New York have issued effective moratoria on fracking in their states, which would likely remain untouched if the bill were passed.

The bill can be read in its entirety here.