Interior’s new fracking rules get swift GOP backlash

Twenty-seven Senate Republicans have introduced a bill to halt the regulations as a threat to the U.S. energy boom.


By Elana Schor

The Obama administration unveiled the first major national safety restrictions for fracking on Friday, touching off a swift backlash from the president’s critics in Congress and the energy industry.

Two oil industry groups immediately sued to challenge the rules, calling them “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns,” while 27 Senate Republicans introduced legislation to block them from taking effect. Meanwhile, green groups were divided on whether the long-awaited regulations go far enough.

“The political reaction is not surprising,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters Friday after her department released the finished rules. But she added, “We’re confident from the process we went through that we’re doing the right thing for the American people.”

The new rules are the federal government’s most comprehensive foray to date toward regulating the technology at the heart of the U.S. oil and gas boom, addressing worries such as potential dangers to drinking water. They also offered oil and gas supporters new room to accuse President Barack Obama of seeking to throttle fossil-fuel production, despite his repeated boasts about the nation’s booming energy supplies.

At the same time, the rules fall short of environmentalists’ biggest demands for oversight of fracking operations — let alone some groups’ calls for an all-out ban.

Interior’s regulations apply only to land owned by the federal government or Indian tribes, so they won’t end the current patchwork of state laws and local ordinances governing the practice in hot spots like Pennsylvania, south Texas and North Dakota. But the industry and its supporters in Congress still call it an overreach, arguing that greens are massively exaggerating the dangers and that states are adequately regulating the industry already.

“If Interior was half as interested in new production as it is in new regulation, our nation would be in a far better place,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s upstream operations director, issued a statement Friday that the rules threaten to create a “duplicative layer of new federal regulation.” He added: “Despite the renaissance on state and private lands, energy production on federal lands has fallen, and this rule is just one more barrier to growth.”

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