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Sparks Fly at House Hearing on Fracking

State officials squared off with House subcommittee Democrats last Thursday over the role, if any, that the Obama administration should have in regulating hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

"The question on the who is in the better place [to oversee fracking]. Are you in the better place here in Washington to tell Oklahoma what to do? Are you in a better place in Washington to tell us in Pennsylvania what to do?" asked Michael Krancer, secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, during a hearing by a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.

"There is no question that states can do and are doing a better job regulating the oil and gas extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing within their borders than the federal government could do...The states are light-years ahead of the federal government in terms of experience and know-how about their own individual states and about the science and technique of hydraulic fracturing," he said.

"I can tell you unequivocally that the federal government could not have implemented and executed what we have done, and done very well, right here in Pennsylvania," Krancer said.

"The fact that you have a good experience [in regulating fracking in Pennsylvania] can't be extrapolated to the rest of the country," thus necessitating the need for a federal oversight of fracking, quipped Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) in a heated exchange with Krancer.

"I don't think the issue is whether the government necessarily [should have] a role. The issue is whether the federal government should have a preemptive role" over the states in regulating fracking, Krancer said.

"I believe that the philosophy that there is no role for the federal government or there ought to be no preemptive role for the federal government has been proved false by history," Connolly said.

Michael McKee, commissioner in Uintah County, UT, expressed concern that the federal government was trying to "fix something that isn't broken" by issuing its own fracking regulations. The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in early May issued a regulation governing fracking on public and Indian lands. It requires producers to report data on fluids at least 30 days before a well stimulation can begin (see NGI, May 7).

"States have successfully regulated hydraulic fracturing for over 60 years...New federal mandates are not necessary. The proposed [BLM] rule would add a redundant, burdensome and costly layer of federal approval for routine oil and gas operations," McKee said.

"State regulators understand the needs of the communities that they regulate much better than a far-removed federal government," as well as the geology, hydrology, infrastructure and other factors unique to a producing basin, he noted.

Over the past couple of years, several states -- including Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas and Texas -- have "substantially revised" their regulations on fracking, said BLM Deputy Director Mike Pool. "One of the BLM's key goals in updating its regulations on hydraulic fracturing is to complement these state efforts by providing a consistent standard across all public and Indian lands. The agency has a long history of working cooperatively with state regulators...The proposed rulemaking is not intended to duplicate various state or any applicable federal requirements."

Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the agency is trying to work with the oil and gas industry and state regulators. She noted that the EPA's recent action on permitting the injection of diesel fuels in fracking operations was a "guidance," not a regulation (see NGI's Shale Daily,May 7). "I would like to emphasize that...the draft guidance does not impose any new requirements [on industry], nor does it bind the regulated community, state permitting authorities or EPA itself. Instead, it simply reflects the EPA's present understanding of existing requirements of SDWA [Safe Drinking Water Act] and its implementing regulations, as they are applied to hydraulic fracturing operations using diesel fuels."

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