Senate Republicans take aim at Obama gas ‘fracking’ regulations

03 29, 2012 by The Hill

Senior Senate Republicans are floating legislation that would slam the brakes on Obama administration efforts to expand regulation of the controversial oil-and-gas drilling method called “hydraulic fracturing” on federal lands.

Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, is the lead sponsor, and the seven other backers include Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the top GOP member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The bill is unlikely to advance but will provide Republicans another rallying point for allegations that President Obama’s Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency have an overzealous agenda that will stymie development.

The bill introduced Wednesday requires that only states may regulate hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” —– on federal lands within their borders.

“States better understand their unique geologies and interests,” Inhofe said when introducing the measure.

Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations to open up seams that enable trapped gas to flow.

The bill arrives ahead of a planned Interior Department proposal that would require disclosure of chemical ingredients used in fracking on public lands, and also create new requirements regarding well integrity and wastewater management.

President Obama touted the upcoming rules in his Jan. 24 State of the Union speech in which he strongly endorsed expanded natural gas development.

“My administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade,” Obama said. “And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use, because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

Separately, EPA is working on new air-emissions rules for oil-and-gas drilling, including wells developed through fracking. EPA is also conducting a major study of how fracking might affect drinking water.

A 2005 energy law largely exempts fracking from Safe Drinking Water Act regulation, but environmentalists and some Democrats are seeking to overturn the provision.

Fracking is enabling a natural gas production boom — much of it on state and private lands — in many regions but is bringing fears of water pollution alongside it.

Energy industry officials, Republicans and conservative Democrats say the method is safe and well-regulated at the state level.

The new bill states:

"A State shall have the sole authority to promulgate or enforce any regulation, guidance, or permit requirement regarding the underground injection of fluids or propping agents pursuant to the hydraulic fracturing process, or any component of that process, relating to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities on or under any land within the boundaries of the State."