could divide fracing
the argument in a cynical effort to attract votes in the 2014 and 2016 elections. “Nothing is easy,” former US Sec. of Energy Bill Richardson told a conference on North American energy potential hosted by Washington, DC, think tank NDN on July 24. “There are environmen- tal dangers to shale gas development— it’s called fracing—but we can do it if we’re careful.”
Fracing’s burden of proof
The observation was one of the few cau- tionary notes during the Bipartisan Policy
Center’s otherwise upbeat conference
on the US shale gas boom’s implications
for the economy, trade, and geopolitics.
That made it all the more dramatic.
During the July 25 conference’s
second panel, participants were discussing whether market opportunities would
let the US export significant amounts of
LNG. Then Kenneth B. Medlock, who is
the energy and resource economics fellow at Rice University’s James A. Baker
III Institute for Public Policy, suggested
public concerns about unconventional
gas production’s possible hazards could
have a significant adverse impact.
“If you take shale gas out of the mix,
the US would be an LNG importer and
give opportunities for entry to foreign
suppliers who would not have them
otherwise,” he warned.
Medlock’s message was basic, but
essential: Public perceptions matter,
and the oil and gas industry will need to
maintain an exceptionally good performance record to avoid being saddled
with unduly restrictive regulations.
“Things like ‘Gasland,’ whether they’re
true or not, are putting pressure on firms
to be the best operator using the best
practices,” he said. “They affect public
opinion, which can influence regula-
It may not be fair, but there are grow-
ing indications that hydraulic fractur-
ing opponents are gaining ground with
arguments based more on fear than on
facts. It even might lead some Demo-
crats outside producing states to accept
It’s not the case across the board. US
Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee Chairman Ronald L. Wyden
(D-Ore.) acknowledged, in remarks at
BPC’s conference, that committee member John Hoeven (R-ND) and US Sec.
of the Interior Sally Jewell both argue
that states are best qualified to regulate
Then Wyden said he wanted to explore dividing fracing regulatory responsibilities between states, which would
handle what happens underground, and
the federal government, which would
have responsibility for addressing above-ground issues.
“Standardized spill reporting doesn’t
have anything to do with geology, and
everything to do with public confidence,”
Many industry leaders acknowledge
winning that confidence will be essential.
Some have warned that a major tight oil
or gas incident—along the lines of the
Macondo deepwater well incident and
spill—would be devastating. The overall
fracing performance will have to be
US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ronald
L. Wyden (D-Ore.) said he plans to ask
the committee’s members to consider
dividing hydraulic fracturing regulatory responsibilities between states and
the federal government.
Emphasizing that “we’re in the very
early stages of discussing this,” he said
states appear the most qualified to
regulate activity underground, where
their knowledge of unique local geologic and environmental conditions
could be best applied.
Washington appears better qualified to handle frac fluid chemical
disclosure, spill control and prevention, and other above-ground issues,
Wyden continued in a keynote address
to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s conference on the US shale gas boom’s implications for the economy, trade, and
“Standardized spill reporting
doesn’t have anything to do with geology, and everything to do with public
confidence,” he emphasized.
Responding to Wyden’s sugges-
tion, a spokesman for the committee’s
Republicans said Ranking Minority
Member Lisa Murkowski (Alas.) be-
lieves states should regulate fracing,
adding, “There is no need for a federal
backstop on this issue.”
Wyden’s remarks came as the
House Natural Resources Committee’s
Energy and Mineral Resources Com-
mittee held a hearing on a bill which
its sponsor said would affirm states’
authority to regulate fracing by limit-
ing the Obama administration’s abil-
ity to impose its own requirements for
fracing on onshore federal lands.