Hydraulic Fracturing Divides U.S. Congress


Lawmakers are heavily divided when it comes to the regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Currently, there are twelve bills in Congress that address the regulation of oil and natural gas operations (four in the Senate and eight in the House). On one side are legislators who believe the federal government needs to play a larger role in regulating oil and gas operations by granting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more regulatory authority, including the authority to override a state’s underground injection control program. On the other side are legislators who disapprove of a one-size-fits-all approach to regulating hydraulic fracturing, and prefer to leave all regulatory responsibility to the states (or, in one instance, Native American tribes). The majority of the bills are from the latter group.

Eight of the twelve bills in Congress involve federal regulation or non-regulation of hydraulic fracturing operations. The bills that would increase federal regulation include proposed legislation to repeal the exemption contained in the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracturing operations (3 bills), one of which would require the disclosure of chemicals used in fracturing operations and would grant the EPA authority to prescribe an underground injection control program for a state if the EPA disapproves of the state’s program. The remainder of the bills would eliminate or prohibit federal regulation of fracturing operations. They include legislation that would prohibit federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing by designating the individual states as the sole regulatory authority (4 bills), or by excluding federal regulations on tribal land (1 bill).

The remaining bills impose procedural obligations, including such things as directing the Secretary of the Interior to develop energy production goals for onshore federal lands, and instructing the EPA on how to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Additionally, one bill would transfer regulatory authority over exports of natural gas from the Secretary of Energy to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The final bill would provide additional review obligations under the Natural Gas Act regarding the approval of natural gas exportation.

The chart below contains a brief synopsis of the pending legislation efforts. Each bill is identified by its bill number, and is followed by a short description, a list of sponsors and cosponsors, and the status of the legislation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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