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Cut government waste—don’t bother with one-sided hearings

Workers gather at a fracking site in western Colorado. Photo by Judith KohlerWorkers gather at a fracking site in western Colorado. Photo by Judith KohlerAt first, the email in my inbox reminded me of something from The Onion.

But a click on the link “DOI Hydraulic Fracturing Rule: A Recipe for Government Waste, Duplication and Delay” turned out to be the real deal – the topic of a House Natural Resources Committee session.

Clearly, the committee’s leadership isn’t letting any testimony or facts get in the way of a preordained outcome. Wednesday’s hearing will take aim at the Interior Department’s proposed regulations for fracking oil and gas wells on federal land.

The draft rule has already been scaled back following strong opposition from the industry. Trade groups argue the federal rule isn’t needed because states can regulate fracking.

The House committee apparently agrees. “For the past 60 years, states have been successfully regulating the process of hydraulic fracturing…,” according to its website.

Not so long ago, oil and gas companies operating in Colorado said something different. State and national industry representatives warned that Colorado’s 2007-08 overhaul of state oil and gas regulations would kill the natural gas boom and set a dangerous precedent for other states to copy. They opposed applying the new regulations to federal land, arguing the state didn’t have the authority to do that.

What a difference five years make. The oil and gas industry now wants states, not the federal government, to regulate drilling and fracking on federal lands in Colorado and other energy-producing states. 

The thing is, the technology has dramatically changed during the past 60 years. The kind of geology being drilled – tight sands, shale oil and gas – is different.

What hasn’t changed much in most places is the regulatory regime.  Many state oil and gas regulatory agencies are directed to maximize recovery of the minerals. 

Even in Colorado, which the industry insists has some of the nation’s toughest rules, legislation intended to beef up oil and gas inspections, increase fines for spills and violations and put more emphasis on health and environmental concerns has been diluted, defeated or faces a tough time at the governor’s desk.

A key part of the draft federal fracking rule is disclosure of the substances in the fluids injected at high pressure underground to create openings in sand and rock to free the oil and gas. People are concerned harmful chemicals are being used that could contaminate water and sicken them.  In Wyoming, a state district judge recently ruled that the public shouldn’t be privy to that information if a company claims disclosure will reveal its trade secrets. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead supported the decision.

For the Wyoming residents who requested the information, a federal disclosure rule wouldn’t be “duplication.” It’s a good bet that hunters and anglers who depend on fish and wildlife habitat on federal lands appreciate the fact that the BLM is mandated to consider multiple uses of federal lands. Other outdoor enthusiasts and the communities that depend on tourism, hunting and fishing likely do, too.

And when it comes to avoiding government “waste,” here’s an idea:  if you’ve already made up your mind, don’t spend the time and money on a hearing.

About the Author
Judith Kohler

Judith Kohler is the regional communications manager for the National Wildlife Federation in Boulder, Colo. Before joining NWF in 2011, she covered the environment, energy, politics and general news stories for The Associated Press in Colorado and Wyoming.

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