House votes to block federal fracking rules

The House passed legislation Wednesday evening that would block the Department of the Interior from regulating hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in states that already have their own regulations in place.

Members passed the bill 235-187 with the help of 12 Democrats; two Republicans voted against it.

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The bill, H.R. 2728, is one of three energy bills House Republicans brought up this week to speed up the process of extracting and moving energy across the country, which the GOP said would help lower energy costs and create jobs.

President Obama's veto threat against the bill, and the likelihood that the Senate will ignore it, means it stands almost no chance of becoming law. Nonetheless, Republicans argued that pending rules from Interior would only slow down energy production and job creation in states that are already regulating fracking.

"Hydraulic fracturing has been safely and effectively regulated by states for decades," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). "So the Obama administration's proposed regulations are unnecessary. They're redundant, and it simply wastes precious time and money duplicating what is already being done successfully."

Republicans added that the Obama administration has shown no evidence that states are bungling the job of regulating fracking.

"No one can show where states are dropping the ball," said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).

Democrats said the bill lets all states off the hook from being regulated by Interior, even those that have weak regulations in place that don't require companies to disclose what chemicals they are using as they extract energy. Interior's pending regulation would require full disclosure of all chemicals used during fracking and are also expected to include language on well integrity and management of flowback water.

Democrats said passing the bill would put people in less regulated states at risk of adverse health effects.

"Tell the people living next to the huge open pits of wastewater that the real danger is the federal government wants to make sure the states have minimum standards," Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said.

Holt also displayed a picture of water flowing out of a tap that is emitting methane gas, which was then lit on fire. "The water is full of methane," he said.

Holt said some have dismissed the idea that these effects are being caused by fracking but said, "It happens where fracking is occurring."

Still, some Democrats agreed with Republican arguments that states are equipped to regulate fracking, and federal rules would slow energy development and job creation.

"In light of this new American energy revolution, we must ensure that we have a smarter and more focused approach to energy regulation," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

The bill says the Department of Interior "shall not enforce any Federal regulation" on fracking on federal lands or Indian lands in states that have their own rules in place.

The bill also requires an Environmental Protection Agency study on fracking to include "objective estimates of the probability, uncertainty and consequence of each identified impact, taking into account the risk management practices of states and industry."

On Tuesday, the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill and said it would hurt federal efforts at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to create fracking standards.

"BLM has been working in close consultation with States and Tribes on strengthening oversight of hydraulic fracturing operations and establishing a uniform baseline level of appropriate environmental protection," the White House said.

Before passing the bill, the House accepted an amendment in a voice vote from the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas). That language would require states to submit their fracking regulations to the BLM.

Members also approved a bipartisan amendment by voice vote from Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.). That language requires the Government Accountability Office to study how fracking affects job creation, energy prices, and state and federal revenue.

Members also passed language from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that would require a government review of all state-approved fracking activity on federal lands.

But the House rejected two other Democratic amendments, from:

— Holt, allowing Interior to regulate fracking for the purpose of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands. Failed, 190-230.

— Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), prohibiting the export of natural gas produced on public lands. Failed, 142-276.

— Ben Geman contributed.

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