The U.S. Department of the Interior announced in June an extension on the comment period pertaining to the proposed onshore hydraulic fracturing regulations until mid-August. As this period comes to a close, it seems as though the summer delay was merely the calm before the storm.
The new regulations were originally introduced by President Obama to better protect the environment from polluted water and potential earthquakes. At the same time, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar outlined a series of rules that called for tighter state regulations on everything from full chemical disclosure to well integrity. Salazar maintained that the rules are necessary for the states that are not considered up-to-par when it comes to regulating fracking on federal land.
Industry officials agree the proposed fracking regulations will not only slow down the drilling permit approval process but also negatively effect production rates. The Western Energy Alliance industry also estimates the rules will add at least $1.2 billion to the cost of new wells in 13 states. Those companies against a full-disclosure clause say the mandate will force them to divulge proprietary information. Several governors from heavy oil and gas drilling states are also joining in the debate to express their concern over which of the stricter regulations will hinder economic growth.
The crux of the matter is there is no concrete evidence supporting the safety claim. Dozens of federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, have not been able to produce justifiable evidence that links fracking to serious environmental consequences. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has also failed to solidify any scientific data that would lead to harsher safety or environmental regulations.
Environmentalists still continue to demand full chemical disclosure to ensure drinking water in fracking areas remains safe for consumption. However, an EPA study conducted last month in Dimock, Pennsylvania, concluded that fracking had no effect on the town’s drinking water. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., the driller in the area, originally believed the EPA study was politically motivated. On the contrary, it seems as though the results—no contaminants found in the drinking-water wells—have justified the fracking movement.
As the November election looms near, Team Obama is reaching out to oil and gas companies and encouraging them to develop fossil fuels. To most, the peaceful gesture is being interpreted as nothing more than a ruse to distract Republicans from their accusation that the White House is too focused on renewable energy. The proposed wind energy tax credits, totaling a staggering $12 billion, display Obama’s affinity for some energies over others. For example, tax benefits to the oil industry amount to less than $4 billion. If tax breaks are to be extended, they must be broadened for the entire industry, not just for those in vogue at the moment.
What President Obama and the EPA are missing are the new, more effective drilling techniques that have led to the more cost-efficient drilling and safer production procedures. Despite the added grace period, White House officials say the rule will be finalized by year’s end. Should the vote pass, states will be relieved of their responsibilities regulating the wells, and oil and gas companies will be left with even higher taxes and ironclad regulations that will ultimately do more harm than good.
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