According to the natural gas industry, states are doing a really, really great job of keeping a tough eye on the natural gas industry.
"State regulators have done an awfully good job," says the CEO of one energy company. "States are doing a good job of regulating hydraulic fracturing," adds the manager of another. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce writes, "We prefer regulation be done at the state level, not federal," and America's Natural Gas Alliance, a trade group, tells us that "States lead the day-to-day oversight of natural gas development because they have the on-the-ground personnel and expertise to safeguard local air, land and water."
Now, two U.S. House member from Texas -- Republican Bill Flores and Democrat Henry Cuellar -- have co-sponsored a bill that would give the states even more power to regulate fracking. Their proposal essentially bans the federal government from regulating the practice "in any state that already has regulations."
The bill has already passed the House. It's now on its way to the Senate.
Flores and Cuellar argue that the federal government is currently just making life harder for the natural gas industry, while the states say the drillers are really nice and creating lots of jobs. The lawmakers also claim that the federal government is lacking some basic regulatory skills. "States are able to carefully craft environmentally responsible regulations to meet the unique geologic and hydrologic needs of their states," they say.
OK, but here's a hypothetical scenario: What if a state happens to have fracking regulations that aren't very strong? Would the federal government still not be allowed to come in and check on federal land? This bill doesn't address that scenario. Also, there have been many reports claiming that states have in fact been doing a terrible job of regulating fracking (See: "State Oil and Gas Regulators Are Spread Too Thin to Do Their Jobs"). This all raises the obvious question: Does the natural gas industry truly enjoy being regulated by the states, or is it just pretending to like the states because the states are easy?
All of the big-name environmental groups say it's the latter
Greenpeace, the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and about 50 other NGOs signed an open letter to Cuellar and Flores detailing a number of serious criticisms of the bill. They say that the proposal would place federal land under a disorganized patchwork of weak state regulations, that the bill would prevent the EPA from studying the effects of fracking and that it would also allow the natural gas industry to hide any potential risks that drilling might pose to drinking water supplies. "The bill is completely indifferent to how well -- or poorly -- state regulatory programs protect surface and groundwater, wildlife habitat, recreational areas, and the public," the letter says.
Brantley's own reporting has similarly found that Texas isn't so tough on frackers. Last year, a Parker County resident named Steve Lipsky noticed that his water had become flammable shortly after Range Resources stimulated a natural gas well nearby. The EPA at first stepped in to issue an endangerment order against Range. But state regulators then held a trial and sided with Range.
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So if this bill basses, perhaps expect to hear more of those types of stories, but without the EPA-stepping-in part.
Here is the full letter that the environment groups signed opposing the Cuellar/Flores bill, H.R. 2728: