Wyoming delegation: Exempt state from fracking rules

2013-08-19T23:45:00Z 2013-08-20T00:18:43Z Wyoming delegation: Exempt state from fracking rulesBy LAURA HANCOCK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
August 19, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. -- Wyoming’s congressional delegation sent Interior Secretary Sally Jewell a letter Monday asking her to exempt the Cowboy State from proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing because Wyoming already regulates the practice.

Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, all Republicans, sent the letter before the Friday comment deadline on proposed rules. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an industry practice in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to free oil and natural gas deposits. The Interior's Bureau of Land Management rules would affect fracking on federal and American Indian lands. Wyoming’s rules were established in 2010. Nearly half of the state is federal or Indian land.

“BLM’s proposed rule duplicates, in many aspects, state regulations that already address well-bore integrity and flowback water and require the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing constituents used on Federal public lands,” the delegation wrote in its letter. “We believe that BLM’s proposed rule will significantly delay oil and gas permitting and in turn discourage oil and gas production on our nation’s public lands.”

Jessica Kershaw, an Interior Department spokeswoman, confirmed that the department received the letter. She said department officials were reviewing it.

After Friday, BLM staff will compile the public comments and review them as they consider updates to the proposed rule, Kershaw said.

Kershaw told The Associated Press the BLM will work with states that already have fracking standards to avoid unnecessary duplication or delays.

"The rule is intended to complement the efforts of some states — including Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Texas — that have recently revised their hydraulic fracturing regulations," she wrote in an email to the AP.

According to the proposed rules, oil and gas producers can apply for a variance in states with fracking rules that meet or exceed the proposed federal rules.

But Monday’s letter isn’t asking for a variance, Barrasso’s spokeswoman, Laura Mengelkamp, wrote in an email.

“It asks for a blanket exemption so that the rule would not apply to Wyoming or any other state currently regulating hydraulic fracturing,” she said.

At a June 6 Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing, Barrasso said there is no guarantee that producers in Wyoming would receive variances. The BLM hadn’t identified the states where variances would be possible. And the BLM may rescind the variance or modify conditions of approval at any time, Barrasso said. His staff provided the Star-Tribune with a video of the hearing, saying it still reflects his position on the issue.

Jewell was at the hearing and responded that some states have better rules than others.

“The state of Wyoming is highly sophisticated in its oversight of hydraulic fracturing,” she said. “We applaud that. You understand the resources in the state and I think it’s a good example of a state that’s doing an effective job. Our role is to provide minimal acceptable standards on public lands. That is our oversight on behalf of the American people and that is what we’re doing.”

Congress is in recess until Sept. 9. When it returns, it could hear H.R. 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act, which is co-sponsored by Lummis. The bill previously passed the House Natural Resources Committee and is awaiting discussion on the House floor.

The bill would prohibit the BLM from regulating fracking in states such as Wyoming that already regulate it, Lummis’ spokeswoman, Christine D’Amico, said.

The bill would be a stronger solution to the problem than a waiver, D’Amico said.

“Granting Wyoming a waiver would be great, but what about the other states with solid fracking regulations?” she wrote in an email. “H.R. 2728 would apply to any state with fracking regulations.”

Gov. Matt Mead also plans to submit a letter to the BLM by Friday, spokesman Renny MacKay said.

MacKay noted that Wyoming was the first state to regulate fracking, through rules approved in 2010 by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“This rule has significant implications for Wyoming,” MacKay said.

MacKay said the governor thinks the BLM should recognize the leadership of states such as Wyoming.

“Now Wyoming continues to show more leadership with regard to oil and gas development with policies like the baseline water testing,” MacKay said.

The proposed baseline water testing rules would require companies to test groundwater before they drill.

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