Unlikely alliance: Political foes plea for more time on fracturing rule

Federal regulation of oil and gas drilling apparently makes for strange bedfellows on Capitol Hill, where it has united Republican Doc Hastings and Democrat Ed Markey in asking that the Obama administration give the public more time to weigh in on the issue.

The lawmakers — who sit at the top of the House Natural Resources Committee but don’t often see eye-to-eye — want the Interior Department to extend a public comment period on a proposed regulation governing hydraulic fracturing on public lands.

The proposed rule aims to boost the integrity of oil and gas wells to prevent contamination, would force companies to disclose the chemicals they pump underground and would make drillers adopt plans for managing water at the sites.

The measure is simply too broad to be fully vetted by the public in 30 days, said Hastings, R-Wash., and Markey, D-Mass., in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Tuesday.

“This timeframe is unacceptable and not nearly long enough to allow the public to formulate in-depth and constructive comments on this 171-page, complicated rule,” the pair said.

They noted that when the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management proposed a similar rule last May (a measure that was later withdrawn), the agency gave the public 120 days to weigh in.

Hastings and Markey asked for another 120-day timeline, which the lawmakers said would “ensure the public will be allowed to fully participate and engage in the rule making process.”

Related story: Feds’ fracturing rule signifies Obama’s approach to natural gas

The decision by the two lawmakers to join forces is a sign of the deep and varied opposition to the proposed hydraulic fracturing mandates. Although the measure proposed last week includes a number of concessions to oil and gas producers, industry representatives complained bitterly that there is no basis for the rule in the first place.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, have accused the Obama administration of caving to Big Oil by allowing companies to disclose the chemicals they use via an industry-backed website, despite criticisms that it is flawed, and by focusing the measure specifically on hydraulic fracturing, rather than more broadly on all well stimulation activities.