The Obama Administration has finally released guidelines for fracking on federal land, but the biggest battle will continue to wage on at the state level.
This plan has been in the works since Obama’s first term, and was finally unveiled by the Department of the Interior on Friday. The new standards will allow government workers to inspect and validate the concrete lining the fracking wells, as well as requiring companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process on an industry-run website called FracFocus. These new standards will go into effect in 90 days.
It represents the administration’s most significant effort to tighten standards for fracking (also known as hydraulic fracturing), a practice that’s controversial across the country. The New York Times reports:
The fracking boom has put the United States on track to soon become the world’s largest oil and gas producer. But environmentalists fear that the technique, which involves injecting a cocktail of chemicals deep underground to break up the rocks around oil and gas deposits, could contaminate surrounding water supplies and wildlife.
As the practice of fracking has soared, fights over how and whether to regulate it have broken out across the country. Some states, such as New York, have banned fracking altogether. Others, such as Colorado, have imposed some safety regulations, and still others have no regulations on the practice.
The states have jurisdiction over drilling on private and state-owned land, where the vast majority of fracking is done in the United States. The new federal rules, by contrast, will cover about 100,000 oil and gas wells drilled on public lands, according to the Interior Department.
Over 90 percent of those 100,000 oil and gas wells use fracking, according to the press release from the Department of the Interior. It’s really a very small fraction of the estimated 1.1 million oil and gas wells across the U.S.; the regulation battle for the most of these wells falls to the states to decide, which has created a sort of patchwork of fracking laws across the nation. Some strictly regulate their own wells while others default to federal government.
There is a sort of a goldilocks scenario for legislation: At a federal level they can’t really set regulations that represent a local hydrology or geology. And states have the ability to recognize that, and they have and they’ve been very successful so far. They’ve got experience regulating and they’ve got a really good track record; like I said earlier there’s not been an instance of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing.
And they are regulating, the big misinformation is that we need federal regulation because states aren’t doing anything and that’s absolutely false.
…Places like Ohio have said they recognized it, they are the primary regulator there. They had some seismic activity last year around New Year’s Eve. They did a formal and an informal moratorium on permits for this underground injection control wells. And when they crafted their hydraulic fracturing regulations they were able to do so in a way that protects these geologic formations that were causing these seismic events. And that’s the sort of level of granularity and specificity that only a state can do. The EPA and the federal government, they have a lot of tools, but they’re rather hamfisted in that what they do they have to do in a rather broad national basis.
Almost two months ago, the Senate rejected an amendment to allow the EPA to govern fracking on both state and private lands with a decisive vote of 63 to 35, which one senator called a “clear message from the U.S. Senate of broad bipartisan support to keep regulation of hydraulic fracturing in the capable hands of the states and out of the grasp of the Obama Administration.”
While one of the biggest legal battles around fracking facing states today is whether or not fracking bans are permissible, Obama’s federal fracking regulations was met with mixed response from both environmental organizations as well as industry groups—the latter has already said they’d file a suit to block the regulations.
The regulations are expected to only be the first in a series of new rules for fracking safety, and Obama is expected to issue further rules aiming to curb the release of methane, a greenhouse gas, from fracking wells.