The House Natural Resources Committee last Thursday voted out legislation that would place greater restrictions on oil and natural gas producers that drill on federal onshore and offshore lands.
The legislation (H.R. 3534), which was crafted by Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), cleared the committee by 27-21, with members mostly voting along party lines. The bill would impose tighter environmental and safety regulation on the oil and gas industry, largely in response to the explosion and sinking of the BP plc-leased Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved similar legislation in late June (see NGI, June 28).
One of the most restrictive amendments included in the bill would bar new offshore oil and gas drilling permits to BP or any other company with a "significant" history of violating worker safety or environmental laws (see related story). The amendment was offered by Rep. George Miller (C-CA), a long-time opponent of oil and gas activity in the offshore.
Miller's amendment does not mention BP or any other company by name. Government regulators that review and approve requests for drilling licenses "should have taken into consideration BP's flagrant history of worker fatalities, OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] violations, and environmental fines at its various U.S. operations before approving its request last year to drill again in the Gulf Coast," he said.
The committee rejected an amendment, offered by Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), that sought to strike language in the measure, which would require oil and gas operators to publicly disclose the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) on public lands managed by the Interior and Agriculture departments. The disclosure requirement would not apply to hydrofracing activities on private lands.
The Fleming amendment was defeated 25-19.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who voted in favor of the House bill, said she supported public disclosure of hydrofracing fluids, but she agreed that "we need to protect [producers'] trade secrets" and "proprietary information."
DeGette "and I are working on a compromise as we speak" on this issue, said Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK), a member of the House panel and co-chair of the natural gas caucus.
Hydrofracing, which is used to stimulate many oil and gas wells, is a process in which fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to fracture the rock and increase the flow of fossil fuels. Opponents contend that the use of hydrofracing fluids should be regulated at the federal level, saying they have seeped into groundwater supplies across the nation.
Republican committee members supported the Fleming amendment. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) blasted Democrats' stepped-up efforts to regulate hydrofracing at the federal level in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon incident. This "could effectively eliminate the 100 year-plus supply of natural gas we got in this country," he said. He said Texas has been regulating hydrofracing for years.
"Wyoming...does have a disclosure rule [for hydrofracing chemicals]. And for 10th amendment [state versus federal rights] reasons and because the federal government's already authorized a study of this, we should wait, we should get the results of the study" before acting on legislation involving hydrofracing, said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is conducting an inquiry into the potential health and environmental risks associated with hydrofracing of unconventional natural gas resources, and the Environmental Protection Agency is carrying out a two-year study of hydrofracing's effects on groundwater (NGI, March 22; Feb. 22).
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), which represents independent producers, slammed the House bill. In a letter to Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), IPAA President Barry Russell wrote that the legislation "is focused more on perceived short-term political gain than on actual solutions."
After the Exxon Valdez tanker spill along the coast of Alaska in 1989, "Congress took appropriate and well-thought-out action over nearly 15 months, evaluating the causes of that accident, and what needed to be done to address and mitigate those problems, before enacting sweeping legislation. Unfortunately leaders in Congress are now legislating in a vacuum, as the cause of the ongoing Gulf incident has yet to be determined," he said.
Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican on the House panel, said he planned to file additional and dissenting views on the bill in the coming days.
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