GOP advances bill to block federal fracturing rules

The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that effectively would block the federal government from regulating the hydraulic fracturing process that is unlocking previously unrecoverable supplies of gas and oil.

On a mostly party-line vote of 23-15, the panel sent the measure to the full House of Representatives, which is expected to debate the legislation later this year. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., bucked Democratic colleagues in supporting the bill; Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., broke with Republicans to vote against it.

The measure would handcuff the Interior Department and other federal agencies just as the Bureau of Land Management finalizes new mandates for the design of oil and gas wells on public lands. The proposed rule — which would apply only on the sliver of territory managed by the Interior Department — also would force companies to disclose the chemicals they pump underground and would make drillers adopt plans for managing waters at wells.

Although the proposal would allow exemptions in states with equivalent or better oversight, Republican lawmakers said it still would translate to an unnecessary new layer of federal regulation.

“These burdensome and duplicative regulations could significantly inhibit hydraulic fracturing on federal land,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. “State regulators are in the best position to handle the day-to-day management of (oil and gas activities) within their states.”

Texas Republican Rep. Bill Flores of Bryan, who sponsored the bill, said it is essential to place “a check on the growth of out-of-control, one-size-fits-all government” that could strangle a new oil and gas revolution in the United States.

“Hydraulic fracturing has been effective regulated by the states for decades, and BLM’s attempts to regulate hydraulic fracturing at the federal level only add more red tape and unnecessary burdens that will ultimately harm our energy security,” Flores said.

But Democratic critics said Flores’ bill would block the most basic of standards for drilling on public lands, even in states that have virtually no mandates of their own. Under Flores’ bill, the prohibition on federal regulations would apply anywhere states have regulations, guidance or permit requirements for hydraulic fracturing.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called that an “unbelievably broad exemption.”

The result is that federal fracturing regulations would be off limits even in “a state that says ‘you have to pay $10 and file a piece elf paper for a permit,’” DeFazio said. “That would preempt the federal government from protecting the resources” in that state, even on public lands also used for hunting, fishing and hiking.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said the measure was “little more than a giveaway to big oil and gas companies to run roughshod over federal and state lands.”

“This bill would would preempt the Interior Department from executing their mission of ensuring that federal land — land owned by the American people — is protected for this and future generations,” Tonko said.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping sand, chemicals and water underground to release oil and gas trapped inside dense rock formations. Oil and gas companies have combined the fracturing process with horizontal drilling to tap previously unrecoverable supplies in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and other states.