The White House is looking for a way to take over the hydraulic fracturing process

NEW ORLEANS, La. – In the past, we have discussed the importance of the hydraulic fracturing process and the essential role it plays in the recovery of unconventional oil and natural gas resources.  We have also noted that this process has an impeccably safe track record of more than sixty years of application and it will be applied to the majority of America’s oil and natural gas wells far into the foreseeable future.  What has not been discussed in detail is the myriad of federal threats that stand to over-regulate and hamper the use of this technology.

When we talk about a potential federal takeover of the hydraulic fracturing process the first thought that comes to mind is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  For the past several years, the EPA has sought authority over the process and has made it clear that the safety of hydraulic fracturing must be extensively studied.  It continues this pursuit even with the agency’s release of a 2004 study that found the process posed no discernable risk to fresh water aquifers.

The EPA, however, is not the only federal agency or body eyeing oversight of the hydraulic fracturing process. The White House interjected itself into the discussion when the Administration commissioned a special advisory panel to the Department of Energy to analyze the process and make recommendations for any additional regulations.  As well, a few members of Congress have pushed for legislation that would place hydraulic fracturing under federal oversight within the Clean Water Act.

Recently this week, an official within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) noted that the agency is looking at regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.  BLM’s deputy director in Wyoming, Larry Claypool, claimed at a recent hydraulic fracturing forum that the agency is “seriously considering” the regulation of the process.

There is no question that the hydraulic fracturing process is effectively and highly regulated within each state.  The fact that one million wells have been fracked throughout the entire continental United Sates without negatively impacting the water table is a testament to the states’ ability to effectively regulate the process.

So what if the federal government usurped jurisdiction over the states?  Let’s look at the government’s track record of oversight on federal lands and in the Gulf coast region.

According to the Western Energy Alliance, applications for permit-to-drill approvals on federal onshore lands decreased 43% in the Rockies and 37% nationwide since 2006.  The federal government has also proven itself incapable of bringing permitting, drilling and production in the Gulf of Mexico back to pre-Macando levels.  Currently, new deepwater permit issuance is 39% below normal levels and shallow-water permit issuance is 80% lower than historical averages.

Hydraulic fracturing is now responsible for 30% of our nation’s domestic resources, and has aided in the extraction of more than 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 7 billion barrels of oil.  According to the National Petroleum Council, 60% to 80% of all wells drilled in the United States in the next decade will require fracturing to remain viable.

The government’s track record and performance would lead many to believe that it is incapable of efficiently and timely permitting the millions of new wells that will be drilled and hydraulically fractured in the coming decades.

Don Briggs is president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.