The Hill reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release its rules for fracking as early as today or tomorrow. These new regulations will apply only to gas drilling that is done on federal public lands – national forests, national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands and other federal property. While the rules will apply only to drilling on public land, they can serve as minimum standards that should apply to all gas drilling.
As reported in The Hill observers expect the rules to require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking, standards for gas well integrity, restrictions on wastewater disposal among other things. These regulations follow on the heels of new EPA rules requiring drillers to control air pollution and methane emissions from their operations.
Predictably, the industry is launching a furious lobbying campaign to weaken the rules. Top industry representatives met with Obama administration officials from the Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of the Interior, and the Council on Environmental Quality, a meeting that included this presentation. We can most likely expect the industry to open up a public relations front in this campaign, and an attempt to politicize the new environmental protections as being somehow anti-energy.
The industry also argues that the states should have primary responsibility for regulating oil and gas drilling, and they have a point. Gas drillers in Texas deal with much different geology, climate and terrain than gas drillers in Pennsylvania. But the proper role of the federal government should be to set minimum standards that must be followed by all drillers wherever they are operating. The states should work from those minimums and customize their fracking regulations to properly protect their unique resources.
A good example of the value of federal regulations is the new set of rules EPA recently issued that requires the drillers to control air pollution from their operations. Pennsylvania’s gas drilling regulations do not address air pollution from drilling operations. But thanks to the new EPA rules, drillers operating here as well as elsewhere will be required to control air pollution.
When it comes to environmental protection, the feds should set the minimums, and the states should be free to go beyond the minimum to best protect the health of their citizens and natural resources.