Fracking-regulations battle on federal lands heats up

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is on record as saying that hydraulic fracturing methods to extract oil and gas "can be done safely," but he's not overly impressed with varying state rules overseeing the drilling process. He's been pushing in recent months for his department to tighten its requirements for "well stimulation" procedures on federal lands -- and that's prompted some pushing back from energy interests, claiming that the proposed fracking crackdown could cost $1.5 billion a year in unnecessary delays and red tape.

"The proposed rule is a poorly conceived solution to a nonexistent problem," a consortium of independent oil and gas associations claim in a recently released and lengthy set of comments blasting the proposed rule change. "Unfounded concerns without a basis in fact should not be the justification for a rule that will impose significant costs on small businesses, independent producers and society at large in terms of decreased access to energy resources, job loss and slowed economic growth."

The additional requirements the feds want to build into the fracking procedure may not seem all that startling to folks outside the oil patch; they include such items as specifying where the massive amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing is coming from and disposal plans for the toxic chemicals involved. An economic analysis prepared for the Western Energy Alliance acknowledges that "many of the requirements are simply clarifications or minor additions to the existing permitting process."

But the folks at the WEA, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and other trade associations maintain that the collective burden of the new hoops will add tremendous delay to the already slow-as-molasses permitting process and drive smaller companies away from drilling on federal lands altogether. As their mad-as-hell letter to Salazar makes clear, they don't see why the feds have to stick their beaks further into the fracking game -- especially when arrangements with state regulators (and frack-friendly governors like John Hickenlooper) in Colorado and other western states have been far less adversarial.

Salazar, for his part, has consistently fended off industry claims that the Obama administration has hindered drilling efforts, chiding the companies for letting thousands of acres in leases stand idle when they should just drill, baby, drill.

The trade associations want to take a meeting with the Secretary, who wants to insert a bit more transparency -- and paperwork -- into the process. Don't expect the fuss over this "stimulation package" to get resolved any time soon.

More from our Environment archive: "Fracking: Website tries to show oil and drilling are great for Colorado."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast