Leaving Fracking Up to the States: House Continues Energy Bill Bonanza
WASHINGTON – The House stepped up its campaign to enhance the nation’s already booming energy production levels by adopting a pair of measures -- opposed by the Obama administration -- intended to undermine federal regulations that one lawmaker said could “potentially destroy jobs.”
The lower chamber, in a 235-187 vote Wednesday, passed the Protecting States Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act, sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores, (R-Texas), which would leave the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking, a process used to extract oil shale and natural gas, to states that implement their own rules, thus removing the federal government from the equation. The White House already has threatened a veto.
Lawmakers followed up that action on Thursday by adopting the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act in a 252-165 vote. That legislation, authored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act on any pipeline application within 12 months after receipt. Failure to meet the deadline will be deemed approval.
Both measures now head to the Senate where passage is unlikely – Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, may not even call them up for consideration. The White House has publicly announced it intends to veto the fracking bill if it makes it to President Obama’s desk, declaring in a statement that the measure fails to assure that hydraulic fracturing will be conducted in a “safe and responsible manner.”
The measure, the White House said, would “require the Bureau of Land Management to defer to existing state regulations on hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, regardless of the quality or comprehensiveness of the state regulations – thereby preventing consistent environmental protections.”
The White House also made known its opposition to the pipeline legislation, maintaining that the bill “could force agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available within the stringent deadlines, and to deny applications that otherwise would have been approved, but for lack of sufficient review time.”
Passage of the fracking bill brings to three the number of measures approved in the House this week to enhance energy production. Also on Wednesday the chamber adopted new rules to expedite the application process for drilling on federal lands – another proposal that drew the threat of a presidential veto.
“While our reliance on foreign oil is decreasing, we must continue to press for more domestic and North American energy exploration and advancement,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). “Drilling for oil and gas, building pipelines and terminals, and allowing the states to maintain some regulatory permissions are vital to growing our economy.”
Flores said the U.S. finds itself “in the midst of a transformation in the way that we produce energy domestically."
“The shale energy boom has brought about an energy revolution which is powering our economic recovery and creating hundreds of thousands of well-paying American energy jobs,” he said. “Energy from affordable, abundant and clean natural gas has also put our country in a position to make us once again globally competitive in manufacturing and grow good, middle class jobs from our manufacturing renaissance.”
The states, he said, have been “effectively regulating hydraulic fracturing on both government and privately owned lands for decades” and have developed an expertise in the area.
“In order to protect American jobs and American energy production we must limit the federal government’s ability to slow down energy production on taxpayer owned federal lands with duplicative regulations and unnecessary red tape,” Flores said.
Hydraulic fracturing involves the fracturing of rock using a pressurized liquid in order to efficiently remove oil shale and natural gas. Fracking generally utilizes water mixed with sand and chemicals that is injected at high pressure into the extraction hole to create small fissures.
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the fracking rules generated by the Obama administration are “bad regulations that potentially destroy jobs and stifle American energy production.”
The new federal regulations could cost $350 million annually, Hastings said. The 1.7 million jobs that are currently supported by shale oil and natural gas production -- a number that is expected to expand to 2.5 million by 2015 – would be placed in jeopardy as a result of the administration’s actions.
“Even worse, these proposed regulations duplicate efforts already being carried out by states across the country,” Hastings said. “Hydraulic fracturing has been safely and effectively regulated by states for decades. So the Obama administration's proposed regulations are unnecessary, they are redundant, and they simply waste precious time and money duplicating what is already being done successfully.”
But Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) asserted that establishing a floor for regulations is in the public interest. State regulations vary, with some instituting reasonable standards while others come up short. Some states allow open pits that prove damaging to migratory birds and other wildlife. If anything, he said, the proposed federal regulations aren’t stringent enough.
“We should have a regulatory regime where the federal government, on its lands, which belong to all the people of the United States, sets a reasonable floor for regulations,” DeFazio said. “If a state like Maryland wants to go above good, solid regulations, well, then, good. But if someone else is a bad actor, and they want to drag it down, and they want to have open pits, they don't want to test the casing, they don't want to do other things that are absolutely essential to protect resources, then they can do that on federal lands? It is bad enough that they are allowing people to do it on private lands and do it on their state lands. But these are federal lands. We are going to require and should require a higher bar to protect the public, to protect the environment, to protect these precious resources and do this responsibly.”
On the pipeline bill, Pompeo said lawmakers hit upon “a real bipartisan solution to ensure that natural gas energy is more affordable for Americans.”
“This bill ensures that America’s revolution in energy production reaches more households and factories across the country, keeping homes warm, factories humming, and utility bills low, all the while cutting needless red tape,” he said.
Most Democrats lined up against the bill, maintaining that the current system already runs with alacrity – about 92 percent of natural gas pipeline applications are already decided within 12 months.
"Instead of expediting the expansion of natural gas pipelines across the country, it would disrupt FERC's natural gas permitting process, which right now is already getting thousands of miles of pipelines permitted in a timely manner," said Rep. Cathy Castor (D-Fla.).