Bills to Limit Fracking Regulations Hit House Floor

Equipment used for the extraction of natural gas is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site on June 19, 2012 in South Montrose, Pennsylvania. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, stimulates gas production by injecting wells with high volumes of chemical-laced water in order to free-up pockets of natural gas below. The process is controversial with critics saying it could poison water supplies, while the natural-gas industry says it's been used safely for decades. While New York State has yet to decide whether to allow franking, Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering whether to allow limited franking for communities along the pennsylvania border that want it. Economically struggling Binghamton had passed a drilling ban which prohibits any exploration or extraction of natural gas in the city for the next two years. The Marcellus Shale Gas Feld extends through parts of New York State, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia and could hold up to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.   (National Journal)

After a relatively quiet year on the energy and environment front, House Republicans are again revving up attacks on President Obama's policies for energy development, this time with a pair of bills that would chip away at the administration's authority over oil and gas production on federal lands.

Much of the debate scheduled for the House floor Wednesday will focus on legislation sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, to block the Interior Department from regulating fracking on public lands where state regulations are already on the books.

Ahead of Wednesday's debate, supporters of the measure framed it as an attempt to ward off a regulatory regime that would prove harmful to the domestic oil and gas boom.

"We have a shale-energy revolution in this country and the federal government shouldn't be doing anything to jeopardize that," Flores told National Journal Daily. "This bill would put the power to regulate back into the hands of the people who do it best — the states."

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., similarly painted the legislation as an attempt to block the administration from slowing oil and natural-gas production.

"Imposing a "˜one-size-fits-all' federal regulation on hydraulic fracturing would add costly and duplicative layers of red tape that would only stand in the way of increased American energy production," Hastings said.

The legislation is expected to pass but is not likely to win many Democratic votes. "I will not be supporting this bill," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., commented ahead of the vote. "The Obama administration has proposed reasonable regulations for hydraulic fracturing, and they should be allowed to go forward."

Critics of the measure point out that Interior regulations, which would only apply to federal lands, are not likely to have a significant impact on domestic production given that the bulk of drilling activity currently takes place on state and private lands.

The House will also vote Wednesday on legislation sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., that would speed up the time it takes for companies to receive a permit to drill on federal lands and open up more federal lands to drilling.

The votes come as part of a broader standoff between House Republicans and the president over who has done more to help the domestic surge in oil and natural-gas production. Obama claimed in his weekly address on Saturday that the rise in production should be attributed, in part, to the administration's support for new technologies.

For, now, however, the rhetoric is mostly symbolic. The bills are not expected to gain traction in the Senate, and the White House announced Tuesday that the president would likely veto the legislation in the event of final passage.

Democrats called the debate on the bills Wednesday a waste of time. "This will never go anywhere," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. "So we'll burn up a day now that we could be using to do something meaningful like pass an appropriations bill or deal with a whole range of issues that aren't particularly partisan or controversial. Instead, we're treading water."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., referred to the bills as "the fiddle on which we are playing while Rome is burning," since Congress has yet to finish work on the budget, the farm bill, an immigration bill, and other pressing issues.