Two House panels press Interior on gas ‘fracking,’ signaling turf battles

Salazar said Tuesday that Interior might issue rules compelling disclosure of chemicals that companies use when employing the drilling method.

Barton and Upton — who are battling each other for Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship in the next Congress — say in their joint letter that a “rush to regulate” could “chill” oil-and-gas development and harm energy security.

“Safe drilling practices are of critical importance. Because hydraulic fracturing is already a regulated practice, however, we believe it is essential that DOI focus on understanding the universe of existing federal and state regulations of hydraulic fracturing, water quality for underground sources of drinking water, emergency planning and reporting, and waste disposal requirements, and the expertise already being brought to bear on these activities before placing additional regulatory requirements on natural gas exploration and production,” they write. Barton is the senior Republican on the committee, and Upton leads its Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

Fracking involves high-pressure underground injections of chemicals, water and sand to break apart rock formations and enable trapped gas to flow. The method is helping to enable a boom in U.S. gas development but also raising fears of groundwater contamination. Industry groups call the concerns badly overblown and say their methods prevent water pollution.

Barton and Upton in their letter ask Salazar a suite of questions about his plans, addressing the schedule for potential regulations, whether Interior has studied potential conflicts with existing federal and state rules, and many other matters.

The dueling committee inquiries to Salazar come amid a wider battle over which panel will oversee key energy matters in the next Congress. Hastings has launched an effort to consolidate energy jurisdiction under his committee, alleging it would “level the power” between the panels and lead to more cogent and effective policymaking.

But his plan faces an uphill battle. Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are united against the plan and are trying to crush it.