House votes to block federal fracking rules.

In one week in November, the House of Representatives voted to pass three energy bills (H.R. 2728, H.R. 1900, and H.R. 1965) simultaneously introduced by House Republicans to facilitate oil and gas development. Notably, Rep. Bill Flores’ (R-TX) bill, H.R. 2728, would block the Department of the Interior (DOI) from regulating hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” on public lands in states that already have their own fracking regulations in place. The bill is expected to be defeated in the Senate.

Republicans said that states have safely and effectively regulated fracking for decades, and that the Obama administration has shown no evidence proving otherwise. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) called federal regulation of fracking “redundant” and a waste of time and money that would slow down energy production and job creation. On the other hand, Democrats said that passing the bill would increase the risk of adverse health effects for people in less regulated states. Although some states, like California and Illinois [PDF], have recently passed stricter legislation governing fracking, many still don’t require companies to disclose what chemicals they are pumping underground in the extraction process. Those states that do require disclosure generally allow exceptions for trade secrets.

The DOI regulation would require full disclosure of all chemicals used during fracking and will likely also address well integrity and flowback water management. Rep. Flores’ bill would prevent the DOI from enforcing any federal fracking regulation on any federal or Indian lands in states that have passed their own fracking rules.  The bill would also require that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on fracking include “objective estimates of the probability, uncertainty and consequence of each identified impact, taking into account the risk management practices of states and industry.”

Ultimately, 12 Democrats voted for the bill, with two Republicans voting against it. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would hinder the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s efforts to create fracking standards.

Department of Interior to Issue Rules Requiring Disclosure of Chemicals Used in Fracking


According to Reuters, on Monday, October 31, 2011, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI), David Hayes, told the Department of Energy’s shale-gas advisory panel that DOI will issue rules “in a couple of months” requiring the disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on federal lands.  Fracking is the controversial technique that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into shale formations at high pressures to extract oil and gas.  Recent technological advances have facilitated greater use of the technique leading to concerns about potential water contamination and air pollution.  The well-known documentary, “Gasland,” purported to document some of the environmental harm resulting from improper use of the technique.  DOI hopes that greater transparency will increase accountability while fostering public confidence.  The Department’s decision is consistent with other initiatives the Obama Administration, particularly through EPA, has undertaken to increase public access to information on chemicals, placing confidential business information at risk.

Reuters reports that about 14 percent of all U.S. natural gas production occurred on federal land during the last fiscal year. DOI supposedly estimates that fracking is used for about 90 percent of gas wells drilled on public lands.  Accordingly, only a fraction of wells in the U.S. would be affected by the rules.   Implicit in the Department’s decision to require disclosure is the reasonable assumption that the same chemicals will be used on both public and private lands subsequent to the rule’s implementation.  By disclosing those used on federal lands, stakeholders will have insight into those used on private lands thereby gaining confidence in the fracking process.  Moreover, several states have disclosure rules in effect or under development.

According to Reuters, DOI’s announcement is part of a larger effort by the Obama Administration to regulate hydraulic fracturing in a way that instills confidence without over-burdening the industry.  Last week, EPA announced that it will promulgate rules for disposing of wastewater from shale gas wells.  Additional information about the Administration’s initiatives is available here and here.  Information from the American Petroleum Institute and others is available here.