Room for feds and states in regulation of hydraulic fracturing

As hydraulic fracturing increasingly looks to be a future key source of energy in the US, it provides state and federal regulators an opportunity to develop complimentary roles in providing oversight of water use, a former federal water regulator said.

The states have a natural role in providing permits and specific regulations, while the federal government could provide a broader perspective on how energy and environmental concerns meet, said Ben Grumbles, president of the U.S. Water Alliance and former Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency, speaking at the Total Energy USA conference in Houston.

“There is a role for the federal government not just for providing science but for regulatory guidance on how you meet energy and environmental needs together,” Grumbles said. “It is also a positive development that states are stepping up and developing more regulatory programs and oversight on fracturing operations.”

Grumbles noted that many states, including Texas, Wyoming and Colorado, have increased disclosure requirements on chemicals used in water for hydraulic fracturing purposes.

Grumbles anticipates that the federal role in water regulatory oversight for hydraulic fracturing will focus more on research and education, but he notes that it also has a role in overseeing state programs that will likely remain.

“The Clean Water Act currently has a role to provide overall guidelines for state run permit programs for surface water challenges,” Grumbles said. “I don’t’ see the EPA getting out of that business or Congress dismissing them from the Clean Water Act .”

While there have been some calls for Congress to revisit the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted water for hydraulic fracturing from Clean Water Act regulations, Grumbles said that he doesn’t “see that happening anytime in the near future”.

However, while there are strong arguments about state rather than federal regulation of water use in hydraulic fracturing, how states will find the funds to provide these services remains an outstanding question.

“The more states step up for tracking operations, there are legitimate concerns about their funding, and where the funding will come from,” Grumbles said.