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Legislative Wrap-Up: Fracking

28 January 2013

With new technology comes new debates and in 2012 many state legislatures attempted to regulate a relatively new industry they did not know much of.  This industry is hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”  Although states differed in the requirements they placed on fracking, they all agreed that the process of hydraulic fracturing and its effects need further study.  Because the impact of fracking on our environment and on our economy is still uncertain, state legislatures across the country introduced the following bills and hotly debated them within their respective chambers.

In Vermont, H 464 prohibits hydraulic fracturing in the state.  The bill defines fracking as “the process of pumping a fluid into or under the surface of the ground in order to create fractures in rock for the purpose of the production or recovery of oil or gas.”  Vermont is the first state to put an outright ban on fracking.  However, the bill also requires the Secretary of Natural Resources to submit a report, on or before January 15, 2015, to the legislature on how hydraulic fracturing should be regulated; leaving room for a possible change in legislation in the future.  In opposition of fracking, Gov. Peter Shumlin said ‘‘I think it’s in keeping with our environmental ethic and our protection of our natural resources that we make it clear that we wouldn’t frack for [gas] even if we had it.’’  State Representative Heidi Scheuermann objected the bill,  saying "We don't know what our assets are in this state…We have no idea if some farmers in Franklin County might be able take advantage of an economic opportunity on their property.”  While many other states only put restrictions on fracking, Vermont stands alone in its decision to outlaw the controversial process.

In North Carolina, SB 820 authorizes “hydraulic fracturing” and horizontal drilling within the state.  A permit is required before hydraulic fracturing occurs and the company must show how they will prevent groundwater contamination, as well as baseline data on groundwater, service water, and air quality in areas where drilling is being considered.  The bill also requires oil and gas drillers to pay compensation for damages and provide a replacement water supply if a private well were to be contaminated or altered.  North Carolina’s bill is closer to the national trend than Vermont’s in that it only poses regulations on fracking and not an outright ban.  Opponents of the bill like North Carolina Gov. Bev Purdue say, this bill “does not do enough to ensure that adequate protections for our drinking water, landowners, county and municipal governments, and the health and safety of our families will be in place before fracking begins."  Proponents of the bill like state Representative Paul “Skip” Stam,  say that fracking is safe and reliable.  After the Governor vetoed this bill, it then passed and became law via a House and Senate veto override.

In Ohio, SB 315 establishes regulations for hydraulic fracturing operators.  The bill increases the area around a drilling well that the government can test for water contaminations.  They can now test for contaminations up to 1500 feet around a proposed horizontal well.  It also requires pipeline operators to provide the Public Utilities Commission with details on the proposed pipeline 21 days prior to construction.  These details include, the description of the constructed pipeline route, operating information no later than 60 days after pipeline has been completed, and trade names and volumes of substances used to stimulate the well regularly from the time the well is drilled until the time the well is plugged.  Proponent of the bill, State Rep. Peter Stautberg said, “There is a balance that is to be struck between the industry and the administration ... without hampering the industry to such an extent that it destroys the efforts of this state to take advantage of the natural resources.”  While opponents like Rep. Bob Hagan said "You have grandchildren. You have kids that could be exposed to these dangers.”   With most representatives agreeing that regulations needed to be in place and some thinking the regulations needed to be stricter, SB 315 passed with little resistance and Gov. John Kasich signed it.

HB 1950 was the first of two laws on fracking to be passed by the Pennsylvania government in 2012.  It was also the lone fracking law passed in the country that only put monetary restrictions of drillers.  HB 1950 was signed by Gov. Tom Corbett on February 14th.  This bill adopts a conference report that authorizes counties to establish oil and natural gas impact fees.  The fees go up as the price of gas goes up and they lower each year if prices stay the same.  Opposition to the bill like Rep. Phyllis Mundy,  echo the concerns of opponents around the country against fracking.  Mundy said, "This is an extremely weak, ill-conceived bill. The consequences for local residents could be terrible. Not only do local governments lose local control, but there is little in place to protect residents, the environment and property values.”  On the other hand proponents of the bill like Rep. Kerry Benninghoff said, “This legislation would enact a competitive local option impact fee that would help to protect our environment and deal with the effects of harvesting natural gas without driving good-paying jobs out of our economy.”  The effects of this bill can already be seen in many county governments throughout Pennsylvania as they have received large sums of revenue from oil companies who have started paying these impact fees.  Opposition of this bill would ask if that money gained is worth it.

SB 1263 was the second measure related to fracking that Pennsylvania passed during its 2012 legislative session.  SB 1263 prohibits natural gas drilling in certain areas.  A 2012 U.S. Geological Survey report found the South Newark Basin of Pennsylvania to contain much larger gas deposits than expected.   SB 1263 prohibits the Department of Environmental Protection from issuing well permits for oil and gas operations in the South Newark Basin until the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in consultation with municipalities in the South Newark Basin, completes a study evaluating the implications of oil and gas operations raised by that 2012 U.S. Geological Survey report.   This has caused much dispute as the measure singles out the southern region of Pennsylvania.  While representatives such as state Sen. Bob Mensch have made statements in favor of further exploring the 2012 U.S. Geological Survey, "Originally [drilling standards] was viewed as primarily an issue for the northern tier counties. This new information proves otherwise” there are still many representatives who feel similar to Jesse White,  and think that the survey results were not adequate because they lack focus on northern Pennsylvania.  “Where was our study? Where was our 6 years” Jesse White asked in reference to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In New Jersey, bill A 575 was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.   This bill was supposed to prohibit storing, treating, discharging, or disposing of the byproducts of hydraulic fracturing.  New Jersey state representatives passed this measure because wastewater from fracking (water containing toxic and hazardous chemicals) was being transported to New Jersey to be recycled.  This water is recycled via a wastewater plant that treats the water for cleanliness and sends it into rivers.  The vote passed only to be vetoed by Gov. Christie.  The wastewater was not from fracking that occurred in New Jersey but it was being brought to New Jersey.  Sen. Bob Gordon said of fracking, "The liquids used in fracking are a veritable witches’ brew of toxic substances that are known to be hazardous to humans.”  Gov. Christie wrote in his veto statement,  “Because the nation is one common market in which state lines cannot be barriers to commerce, the Dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution limits a state’s ability to regulate interstate commerce.”  Gov. Christie argues that the measure is unconstitutional.

In Idaho, H464 specifies that only the state government will have the authority to prohibit the extraction of oil in its own state, not local governments, as long as the extraction complies with local laws.  Opponents like Sen. Dean Cameron,  argued that because oil and gas exploration companies may choose to extract resources near a church or in the middle of town then locals need to be included in the process of approving such projects.  Proponents like Sen. John Tippet's, countered arguments of critics by stating there was still plenty of opportunity for people with concerns about individual projects to weigh in during public comment periods with the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Some of the members of the United States Congress decided to attempt to take part in the passing of fracking legislation and introduced HR 4480   It passed the House in June.  However it didn’t make it out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  HR 4480 sought to establish a minimum percentage of federal lands that must be available for oil and gas leasing, and it requires increasing oil and gas lease sales in Alaska and off the coast of Virginia.  It also requires delay implementation of certain environmental regulations.  The bill requires at least 25% of federal land that was located within known oil reserves to be auctioned and prohibits anyone from objecting to this sale.  It also requires the Environmental Protection Agency to consider economic cost and consequences when making any changes to air quality standards.  Idaho House Rep. Mike Simpson supported the piece of legislation and said  “record high gas prices have placed a huge burden on our state’s agricultural and trucking industries. These problems have grown out of decades of poor energy policy, and this bill takes a big step toward energy policies that work for Americans, not against them.”  House Rep. Steny Hoyer,  an opponent of the measure said  "While gas prices have thankfully retreated, the bill would have an extreme, drill-only strategy that won't lower gasoline prices…[HR 4480] is notable for what it doesn't do: invest in energy resources that create jobs and enhance energy security."

In 2012 hydraulic fracturing continued to be a pressing topic.  Many states passed different pieces of legislation regarding the topic.  The results of these laws will most likely determine whether we see more fracking legislation in the future.  The economical, ethical and environmental effects of fracking will continue to be at the forefront of reasoning for fracking standards.

Sean Flack is a student at the University of Texas, Austin, majoring in Communication Studies and Corporate Communications.


Related tags: Alaska, blog, hydraulic-fracturing, Idaho, key-votes, New-Jersey, North-Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia

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