The Obama administration’s new rules governing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are drawing criticism from environmentalists and the oil and gas industry alike.
“States have led the way in regulating hydraulic fracturing operations while protecting communities and the environment for decades,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute. “While changes to the proposed rule attempt to better acknowledge the state role, [the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)] has yet to answer the question why BLM is moving forward with these requirements in the first place.”
The proposed rules by the Department of Interior (DOI) require that companies drilling on federal lands disclose the contents of their fracking fluids and that oil and gas companies ensure no fluid escapes their wellheads during the process.
“States have been successfully regulating fracking for decades, including on federal lands, with no incident of contamination that would necessitate redundant federal regulation,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for Western Energy Alliance. “While the current rule is better than the first impractical rule, DOI still has not justified the rule from an economic or scientific point of view.”
However, environmentalists contend that the new rules don’t go far enough and fail to adequately protect the public from the controversial drilling practice.
“Although no amount of regulation will make fracking acceptable, the proposed BLM rules fail even to take obvious steps to make it safer,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. “After reviewing the draft rules, we believe the administration is putting the American public’s health and well-being at risk, while continuing to give polluters a free ride.”
Environmentalists have been working to halt fracking throughout the country, most recently working in California to get the the Obama administration to postpone lease sales on federal lands within the state. Activists believe the practice is harmful.
The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity successfully sued to get the Obama administration to stop lease sales on the Monterey shale after a federal court ruled the administration improperly issued leases because they did not assess the risks of fracking.
In places like California, the oil and gas industry has been using the fracking process for 60 years, but there are now legislative efforts in the state to put a moratorium on the drilling practice, such as the one that already is in place in New York.
“Already, an unresponsive and often hostile federal government has made these lands all but undesirable for energy exploration amid the greatest boom in oil and gas production increases in U.S. history,” said Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. “At a time when the Interior Department can’t even do its job under existing law, bureaucrats have decided they must involve themselves trying to fix something that isn’t broken.”
These proposed rules come after the the Obama administration announced it was delaying oil and gas leases on federal lands due to the sequester. A report by House Democrats said that the BLM will process up to 400 fewer oil and gas drilling leases and issue 150 fewer leases — costing the government $150 million in revenue.
Oil and gas production on federal lands is also down for the second year in a row, despite an energy boom.
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