Federal Fracking Initiatives Starting To Gel; PHMSA Reforms Uncertain; DOE Allowing More LNG Exports

July 2011, Vol. 66 No. 7

The fracking debate is moving forward on two separate stages in Washington. The Department of Energy's natural gas subcommittee is expected to make recommendations on fracking liquid disclosure in August.

Meanwhile, the EPA is laboring to retool its initial proposal for a fracking study -- where Congress has charged it to look at fracking's impact on groundwater -- in the light of industry, congressional and even its own Scientific Advisory Board's (SAB) criticism.

The DOE subcommittee chaired by John Deutsch, a former top Energy and Defense Department official first under President Jimmy Carter and then under President Bill Clinton, held hearings on June 1-2 to get industry, environmental and state regulator opinions on where fracking disclosure at the state level currently stands and what enhancements might be needed. The subcommittee has to come up with any immediate steps to improve the safety and environmental performance of fracking by the first week of August. It has another three months to develop "consensus recommended advice" to federal agencies on the subject.

Deutch declined to give any indication of where the subcommittee might be headed. Subcommittee sources say they expect to meet the early August deadline for initial recommendations.

While the DOE is making recommendations on fracking chemical disclosure, the EPA will be conducting a year-long study looking at the impact of fracking on groundwater, if in fact there is any impact. But in May, Rep. Ralph Hall's (R-TX), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the soon-to-get-underway EPA study on fracking "useless to regulators and risk managers and as such a waste of taxpayer money." Hall held hearings on the EPA's preliminary study design on May 11.

At the House hearings, Elizabeth Ames Jones, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), the energy regulatory body in Texas, criticized the EPA study -- which the agency initially designed to look at the "full life cycle" of oil and gas wells -- as overly broad. She noted the EPA SAB agreed, and said the study should be restricted, at least initially, to researching sources and pathways of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water resources. "Our two main concerns about the EPA’s study are that it proposes to delve into areas beyond the reach of federal law, and that it also proposes to study areas beyond the practice of hydraulic fracturing," she said.