Flores: Fracturing rules would give feds a foot in the door

The Interior Department’s plan to stiffen standards for drilling on public lands could open the floodgates for a wave of federal regulations cracking down on the hydraulic fracturing process that is key to unlocking U.S. oil and gas, a Texas Republican warns.

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Waco, says the mandates proposed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management could be just the beginning of an avalanche of federal regulations governing the technique.

“The federal government is determined to try to regulate hydraulic fracturing, despite the fact that it has limited statutory authority to do so and despite the fact that the states are already doing a good job,” Flores said during an interview with Platts Energy Week.

The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal would create new mandates for the design of oil and gas wells, with the aim of preventing contamination. It also would force companies to disclose the chemicals they pump underground and would make drillers adopt plans for managing water at the sites.

The proposed rule would apply only on territory managed by the Interior Department — a small sliver of the United States — and would allow exceptions in states with equivalent or even stronger regulations governing fracturing. Environmentalists have blasted the proposal as ceding too much ground to the oil and gas industry at the expense of robust federal oversight and public disclosure.

Hydraulic fracturing: Interior chief defends plan for federal drilling rules

But the oil and gas industry — and its allies in Congress — say no federal benchmarks are necessary because state regulators are already overseeing the process.

Flores likened the Interior Department’s proposed rule to “the nose under the tent.”

“If they can get in and say, ‘Okay, we are only going to regulate where the states have no regulations or we feel like the regulations are not strong enough,’ then eventually, you get a national standard over an area that they really don’t have the expertise to deal with and, more importantly, they don’t have the federal statutory authority to do it,” Flores said.

A second-term lawmaker who spent years at Phoenix Exploration Co., Flores is sponsoring legislation that would effectively bar the federal government from regulating hydraulic fracturing anywhere state regulations or permit requirements already govern the process. The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Flores’ bill last week, and the House of Representatives is expected to debate the measure later this year.