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The federal government isn't planning a "full court press" on the natural gas industry, but it will if best management practices and state regulations aren't effective, a former U.S. senator told an audience in Pittsburgh Tuesday.
"I served in Congress 30 years. I can tell you people don't just sit there on the floor of the Senate and say, 'Well, what can we regulate tomorrow?' That's not the way it works. The way it works is: People begin to complain,"Sen. Byron Dorgan said at the American Petroleum Institute (API) Workshop on Commitment to Excellence in Hydraulic Fracturing.
Before retiring earlier this year, Dorgan represented North Dakota in the U.S. House and Senate. He requested the 2008 U.S. Geological Survey assessment of the Bakken Shale that kicked off the oil shale boom in that formation.
While Dorgan said he believes hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) can be used to safely develop shale deposits, he acknowledged that explosive industrial growth of any kind brings impacts, and that the public is rightly concerned about increased truck traffic, impaired air quality and flowback water that must be disposed of. "The best way to address it is to deal with those costs," Dorgan said. "We can do all of these things, and we are dealing with them."
Dorgan favors regulation, but he said that included self-regulation and local regulation. "If state regulatory authorities work the way they can...that is going to address the issues that I have just described," he said. "We will not be successful if we are ever identified by the worst practices of the lowest common denominator."
Dorgan also praised the work of nongovernmental groups such as the voluntary chemical disclosure website FracFocus, the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) and API.
Although the combination of horizontal drilling and hydrofracking is new, API relied upon 88 years of standards-setting as it addressed the current boom, according to David Miller, API director of standards. "API standards represents industry's collective wisdom on operational practices, developed an refined over many years," Miller said.
In addition to its existing standards for upstream, midstream and downstream oil and natural gas development, API released five standards directly related to hydrofracking operations between July 2009 and January 2011.
While API reviews all standards every five years, Miller said HF-1, HF-2 and HF-3 are all on tap to be reviewed in the upcoming 2012 standards plan. He also said API is working on a stray gas migration standard to be issued soon.
All API standards are available to the public for free online and through the Federal Register.