Bill would prevent feds from overseeing hydraulic fracturing on federal lands

Jul 25, 2013

Testifying before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources today, Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer and Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, warned members of Congress that proposed legislation to strip the federal government of the authority to set minimum environmental standards for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands would have adverse consequences for the public and the environment.

H.R. 2728 would give states full control over hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) oil and gas production and possibly other forms of drilling on Bureau of Land Management and tribal lands. State regulations and guidances – no matter how limited – would replace the BLM standards.

“The bill prohibits the federal government from regulating hydraulic fracturing operations – including associated operations such as chemical and wastewater storage and disposal – on federal lands, even if states have issued only hydraulic fracturing ‘guidance’ or have developed ineffective regulatory programs,” Epstein told the subcommittee.

“The bill is indifferent to how well state programs protect surface and groundwater, wildlife habitat, and the public.”

Epstein, who has more than 25 years of experience in oil and gas environmental and safety issues and has served on oil and gas safety committees for the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Transportation, said the bill would allow powerful oil and gas interests to ensure that some states have only minimal, inadequate regulations. In Pennsylvania, for instance, contaminated water from wells was legally taken to wastewater treatment plants. As a result, several rivers were contaminated with chemicals that could later mix with chlorine disinfectant to create carcinogens in drinking water.

The federal Bureau of Land Management is developing regulations for hydraulic fracturing operations on the lands it controls, and such standards on well integrity, chemical disclosure, and wastewater handling are essential to protect the public and the environment, Epstein said.  There is broad consensus which includes industry on the importance of regulating these areas.

“States should not be allowed to undermine these federal requirements for oil and gas drilling,” Epstein testified, “because the end result will be contamination problems.”