Wyden suggests Washington, states could divide fracing regulation

US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ronald L. Wyden (D-Ore.) said he plans to ask the committee’s members to consider dividing hydraulic fracturing regulatory responsibilities between states and the federal government.

Emphasizing that “we’re in the very early stages of discussing this,” he said states appear the most qualified to regulate activity underground, where their knowledge of unique local geologic and environmental conditions could be best applied.

Washington appears better qualified to handle frac fluid chemical disclosure, spill control and prevention, and other above-ground issues, Wyden continued in a keynote address to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s conference on the US shale gas boom’s implications for the economy, trade, and geopolitics.

“Standardized spill reporting doesn’t have anything to do with geology, and everything to do with public confidence,” he emphasized.

Responding to Wyden’s suggestion, a spokesman for the committee’s Republicans said Ranking Minority Member Lisa Murkowski (Alas.) believes states should regulate fracing, adding, “There is no need for a federal backstop on this issue.”

Wyden’s remarks came as the House Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Committee held a hearing on a bill which its sponsor said would affirm states’ authority to regulate fracing by limiting the Obama administration’s ability to impose its own requirements for fracing on onshore federal lands.

Not against regulation

“The bill before us at today’s hearing is not a question of regulating or not regulating hydraulic fracturing,” said US Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.). “[HR 2728] is about empowering local self-government and placing a check on the growth of out-of-control, one-size-fits-all government.”

Witnesses from Alaska, Texas, and Utah’s oil and gas regulatory agencies testified their states already have strong fracing regulations in place.

A fourth witness—Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society—said there are strong technical and policy reasons for federal baseline requirements—especially regarding well bore integrity and water resource protections—to ensure equitable standards nationwide.

Wyden said he developed his proposal after participants at one of the committee’s natural gas forums this spring vigorously argued for either the federal or state governments to solely regulate fracing.

The forums also convinced him that close attention needs to be paid to the nation’s pipeline infrastructure to ensure that it is adequate to transport gas produced from tight shale formations to markets while minimizing methane leaks, he indicated.

Citing one estimate that another 30,000 miles of gas pipelines will be necessary, Wyden said, “We want not simply to build more pipelines, but better pipelines.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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