Five dozen lawmakers protest ‘untenable’ oil field regulations

A bipartisan group of House members has called on the Department of Transportation to reverse regulatory guidance issued in June that limits the ability of supply trucks to service oil and gas fields.

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Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) and 60 other members of the House argued in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the guidance will harm not just the oil and gas industry, but related industries that contribute to job growth. They also argue that the guidance reversed 50 years of established practice with little warning to the industry.

"Such a change significantly restricts the operations of individuals and businesses engaged in hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' operations, thereby increasing their costs and restricting their ability to provide good-paying jobs to American citizens and low-cost energy to U.S. consumers," they wrote in a letter released Friday.

At issue is regulatory guidance that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released in June. For the first time in decades, the FMCSA said that some supply vehicles would not benefit from a policy that allows drivers of commercial vehicles to stay on duty beyond the 11-hour limit that the government imposes for safety reasons.

It is often necessary for drivers servicing oil and gas fields to stay on duty beyond 11 hours because these fields can be in remote areas accessible only by unpaved roads. In addition, once these trucks get to the oil or gas field, they are often forced to wait to load or unload, based on the activity going on at the site.

Under the FMCSA's regulatory guidance, only drivers of trucks related directly to oil and gas operations will still benefit from the ability to stay on duty for extended periods of time. But other drivers, such as those driving trucks supplying general supplies, or moving sand and water to and from the site, will be capped at 11 hours a day.

The House letter argued that this new guidance would create two classes of drivers that would make it much harder for the oil and gas site to coordinate its operations. It also warned that the change would require more drivers and more trucks, which would increase cost and produce more vehicle traffic.

"Considering the substandard condition of this infrastructure, we believe this increased traffic to be an untenable outcome of this Guidance," they wrote.

A House aide said members are pressing the FMCSA to reassess its guidance, and at the very least go through formal rulemaking process rather than make this change through a guidance document. An official process would also allow industry input into the decision.

"Changes of such magnitude must be made only after the industry has had proper time to review this change and submit comments to FMCSA," they wrote.

The aide said that while the FMCSA guidance took effect in early June, officials have since extended the comment period and are holding "listening sessions" across the country, which could be a sign that the FMCSA is open to adjusting the guidance.

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