What the Frack? More Regs for Domestic Production

As President Obama continues to tout his commitment to an “all of the above” energy strategy, his departments are stealthily working to narrow the definition of “all.”

On April 13, Obama issued an executive order on “supporting safe and responsible development of unconventional domestic natural gas resources” — “unconventional” being the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that draws the natural resource from rocks.

“While natural gas production is carried out by private firms, and States are the primary regulators of onshore oil and gas activities, the Federal Government has an important role to play by regulating oil and gas activities on public and Indian trust lands, encouraging greater use of natural gas in transportation, supporting research and development aimed at improving the safety of natural gas development and transportation activities, and setting sensible, cost-effective public health and environmental standards to implement Federal law and augment State safeguards,” Obama said in the directive.

“To formalize and promote ongoing interagency coordination, this order establishes a high-level, interagency working group that will facilitate coordinated Administration policy efforts to support safe and responsible unconventional domestic natural gas development,” the order continued.

Some of those agencies have already begun dropping new regulations, trying to toe the line of moving toward the environmentalist base while purportedly supporting the method responsible for much of the domestic production increase lifted up by Obama in his speeches.

Days after the executive order, the Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations requiring frackers to install methane-capturing technology to limit emissions. Industry groups said the effects could be onerous, especially on independent oil and gas producers responsible for 95 percent of wells, as a 2015 deadline was imposed on the transition.

“By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will not only protect our health but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said.

Enviro groups were pleased, although they thought the compliance timeframe was too short.

Today, the Interior Department released a draft rule regarding chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on public and Indian lands.

“As the president has made clear, this administration’s energy strategy is an all-out effort to boost American production of every available source of energy,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place.”

“The new regulations released today will discourage future production of the abundant energy resources located on our public lands,” said Rep. Rod Bishop (R-Utah). “I suppose the current administration and their special-interest group allies would consider that a ‘win’.”

“However, like many Americans, I do not,” the congressman added in his biting criticism of the latest move.

The Interior Department said the new rules are needed because the Bureau of Land Management’s fracking regulations are more than 30 years old.

Interior noted that in line with Obama’s executive order, “the proposed rule released today received important interagency feedback.”

First, drillers would have to get a permit, considered only after explaining how they plan to handle “flowback water” that arises at the end of the fracking, to conduct a hydraulic fracturing operation. Before beginning, they would have to submit to authorities a log that “would be used to verify that the operator has taken the necessary precautions to prevent migration of fluids into the annulus from the fracture zone to the usable water horizons” and the results of a pressure test. After fracking, the operator would have to submit to the government a record of the types of chemicals used in the process and the amounts.

The rule includes “improving assurances on well-bore integrity to verify that fluids used in wells during fracturing operations are not escaping” and “confirming that oil and gas operators have a water management plan in place for handling fracturing fluids that flow back to the surface.”

The Sierra Club balked that the proposed rules don’t go far enough, but made clear that the acceptable solution in their book would be no fracking at all.

“While it is deeply disappointing that fracking on sensitive public lands has been considered at all, we fully expect the administration to implement the toughest safeguards possible to rein in irresponsible practices and protect our public spaces,” the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement today. “We look forward to working closely with the administration to ensure that happens.”

Today, an environmental coalition called on the EPA to ban the use of diesel in fracking operations.

“The natural gas industry has been using this dangerous fuel for fracking, showing once again that they cannot be trusted to police themselves,” Brune said.

The EPA is conducting a study to be released at the end of this year making determinations on the impact fracking has on drinking water and groundwater.

Some note that the Interior Department’s chemical reporting regulations would be in line with some states’ rules on fracking. But Bishop said it’s just the latest indication of a “crucify” strategy that still exists even as regional EPA administrator Al Armendariz slipped out the door in the wake of his comments being revealed.

“The administration’s efforts to snuff out many forms of domestically produced energy have been thinly veiled at best,” Bishop said. “The EPA administrator who was captured on tape saying that the goal was to ‘crucify’ oil and gas companies perfectly illustrates the administration’s position on domestic energy production.”

The congressman noted the hypocrisy of Obama touting a rise in energy production while casting a shadow over the extraction method responsible for that rise.

“In just the last month we have seen new regulations placed on the production of clean coal and natural gas,” Bishop said.

“We can be responsible stewards of our natural resources while also encouraging and supporting clean safe energy production on our public lands. The two are not mutually exclusive.”