N.D. delegation opposed to proposed fracking rule

2013-05-16T17:30:00Z N.D. delegation opposed to proposed fracking ruleBy JESSICA HOLDMAN | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

The U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing a rule to require oil companies drilling on federal lands to publish chemicals used in fracking fluids, which North Dakota's congressional delegation says would interfere with state laws.

"As North Dakota's own Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms accurately pointed out last week in the House Natural Resources Committee, it is simply not possible for the federal government to create its own standard on hydraulic fracturing without interfering with state and local laws," Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a statement.

Cramer serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources, which will conduct additional oversight hearings on the proposed rule in June.

Helms was not available for comment Thursday. North Dakota Oil and Gas Division spokeswoman Alison Ritter said the North Dakota Industrial Commission would likely be making a statement on the new rule today.

The proposed rule would rely on FracFocus.org for reporting, which is used by Colorado and 10 other states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. Critics, including environmentalists say the site is not strict enough, though, allowing companies to declare certain chemicals trade secrets.

States are currently responsible for regulating oil and natural gas development related to hydraulic fracturing.

"We believe we already have substantial regulations in place that allow for continued oil and gas production while protecting the environment and the health and safety of our citizens," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement.

The proposed rule would be the first regulation of hydraulic fracturing at the federal level.

In addition to fracking reporting requirements, Ryan Bernstein, chief of staff for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the proposal would duplicate state requirements as well as add requirements companies would have to meet.

For example, Bernstein said, companies would have to submit well designs and plans for managing water used in fracturing operations for approval by the Bureau of Land Management. The state already requires regulation of the water and well design. There would be new rules for testing surface casing, the outermost layer of pipe that surrounds a well to prevent leaks and blowouts, and limits on the type of water that can be used in the fracking process.

Hoeven said in a statement those duplications and new rules would add to permitting delays and development costs.

"Under the current federal regimen, it takes between 180 and 290 days to permit a well," he said. "On private land in North Dakota, the same permit takes just weeks."

Cramer cited an analysis by economics firm John Dunham & Associates estimating an increase in costs of $253,800 per well.

"America needs a practical, forward-looking, all-of-the-above energy plan that will help us to develop more energy with better environmental stewardship and lead us to the long-elusive goal of North American energy security," Hoeven said in a statement.

A similar draft was proposed last year but was withdrawn because of complaints it would hurt natural gas production.

Heitkamp said the current draft is "a step in the right direction," but she does not think it is workable as written and is uncertain the federal government should "craft one-size-fits-all regulations" for fracking when states have their own.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.

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