U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo) questioned Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today in the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Lummis took the opportunity to raise concerns to the Secretary over increased Soda Ash royalty rates, the possible establishment of a national regulation on hydraulic-fracturing, and natural gas's place in the President's clean energy directive on public lands.
Soda Ash Producers, having applied for temporary relief from the increased 6% rates imposed in October - up from 2% in 2006 - were denied the royalty relief by the Department of the Interior this week. For a Wyoming industry struggling to compete with China's synthetic, heavily subsidized soda ash, this fee leveled by the United States' Government is a substantial blow.
"I would really like to be able to work with you on these issues so we can keep these jobs in the U.S. and keep this non-hydrocarbon product - that's natural - out there so it can compete with this synthetic product that is subsidized elsewhere in the world." Rep. Lummis said in the hearing.
Wyoming Soda Ash Producers employ roughly 3,000 citizens of Southwest Wyoming and account for 90% (over one billion dollars to the U.S. balance of trade) of the United State's Soda Ash exports.
Wyoming's successful hydraulic fracking disclosure regulation is currently the most rigid in the country. However, despite the good work of Wyoming and other states on this issue, the Department of Interior is proposing national fracking regulations.
While testifying yesterday in the Natural Resources Committee hearing, Sec. Salazar testified that the energy producers are supportive of national fracking standards as opposed to state regulations, a statement energy producers quickly corrected. Trade associations representing nearly every energy producer on federal and private lands disputed the Secretary's remark. Rep. Lummis gave the Secretary the opportunity to correct himself for the record; instead, Sec. Salazar doubled down, and continued to claim that "some CEOs" support federal fracking regulations.
The Secretary also defended his efforts to federalize fracking rules by claiming a federal law is necessary to protect the public estate. Despite the Secretary's apparent confusion about the reach of Wyoming's fracking laws, Rep. Lummis continues to believe that states are the best suited to regulate hydrologic fracturing.
"As you know Wyoming has the toughest rules on fracking disclosure in the country and they apply to federal public lands. If someone is drilling on federal public lands in Wyoming they have to disclose to the Oil and Gas Commission in Wyoming." Lummis said.
During the State of the Union Address, President Obama directed his administration to develop clean energy on public lands for 3 million homes. In consideration of this initiative and in recognition of the Secretary's prior admission that natural gas is a clean energy source, Rep. Lummis touted the benefits of natural gas production, particularly when considering the lack of surface disruption as opposed to wind energy farms or solar energy's large footprint.
"You can produce so much more energy for 3 million homes from natural gas than you can from wind and solar, especially wind." Lummis said. "Wind farms can have a surface disturbance that begins to detract from the beautiful public lands that we have in our state. Whereas, if it's being produced in the form of natural gas, the surface disturbance, the viewshed, is less and yet you can produce so much more power."