“Regulating Hydraulic Fracturing: States Take Action” by Jacquelyn Pless

Reference: National Conference of State Legislatures

Recent advances in natural gas drilling techniques have opened up U.S. natural gas supplies that
were unavailable just a decade ago, expanding supplies so much that some forecast current consumption levels could be sustained for another century. In the lower 48 states, the most active
extraction sites include the Antrim Shale, the Fayetteville Shale, the Haynesville/Bossier Shale, the Barnett Shale, the New Albany Shale, and the Marcellus Shale. The “gas rush” of the Marcellus Shale gas play—a geographic area targeted for natural gas exploration which stretches from Ohio to upstate New York and lies beneath two-thirds of Pennsylvania—holds the largest untapped natural gas reserves in the nation. While this region alone could provide enough natural gas to satisfy U.S. demand for at least a decade, some are concerned that extraction methods may threaten freshwater supplies.

Natural gas production from hydrocarbon-rich shale is one of the most rapidly expanding trends in oil and gas exploration and production, and states are working to regulate new extraction technologies to protect water resources and the environment.

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Federal Regulation

In June 2009, Congress introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act (HR 2766 and S. 1215). Although neither bill passed, if enacted, they would have removed a current exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act commonly known as the “Halliburton Loop,” which exempts hydraulic fracturing from restrictions on underground injection near drinking water sources. The act also would have required disclosure of chemicals in the fracking fluid for
each operating source, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have regulated hydraulic fracturing. While the energy industry argued the FRAC Act adds unnecessary and cumbersome regulation and that states already adequately regulate hydro-fracking, others claimed it would address problems that currently are ignored.

Lawmakers in Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, recognizing the benefits fracking brings to local economies and landowners, introduced legislation urging Congress not to remove the exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Alabama, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming adopted the resolutions. New Jersey and Pennsylvania introduced resolutions supporting passage of the FRAC Act.

In November 2010, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it was considering changing regulations to require drillers to disclose fracking chemicals used on federal land, which is drawing support and opposition from members on both sides of the aisle.

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State Action

State agencies have the power to regulate, permit and enforce all activities relating to natural gas development. Every state where oil and gas is produced has at least one regulatory agency that permits wells and sets environmental regulations. Severance taxes also can benefit states, although some argue they limit production.

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