Fracking-Funded Legislators Hold Hearing Criticizing Rules That Aren’t Written Yet

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You might think fracking boosters would at least wait until new safety and disclosure rules regulating hydraulic fracturing are proposed before attacking them as causing “government waste, duplication, and delay.” You would be wrong.

The House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), held a hearing Wednesday entitled “DOI Hydraulic Fracturing Rule: A Recipe for Government Waste, Duplication, and Delay,” criticizing regulations on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, weeks before they will be released.

In fact, the set of rules is likely already watered down from an earlier draft. The Interior Department had proposed similar rules in May 2012 governing fracking well safety and disclosure of chemicals used in the drilling process, but it announced in January that it would rewrite the rules from scratch after heavy opposition from natural gas interests and industry-funded legislators

In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-N.J.) called the department’s move an “unusual step” and said “A leaked version of that revision appears to indicate that the proposal may weaken requirements.” Incoming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has said that these new rules will be released in the next few weeks.

Rep. Hastings and several other members of the Natural Resources committee have been keeping up a steady stream of criticism since the first set of rules were proposed under then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Unsurprisingly, these pro-fracking legislators were some of the committee’s biggest recipients of industry cash, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, while those who spoke in favor of the rules have received virtually no industry money.

  • Hastings, who derided new rules as “duplicative,” “potentially costly,” and “federal red tape,” took more than $170,000 from the oil and gas industry for his 2012 campaign while the committee held at least five hearings against the first iteration of Interior’s rulemaking.
  • John Byrom, a witness at Wednesday’s hearing, was representing the Western Energy Alliance, a group whose political action committee threw Hastings a fundraiser last June, the month after the old fracking rules were initially proposed.
  • Including Hastings, a total of five of the six largest recipients of cash from the oil and gas industry in the most recent election cycle—nearly half the 11 members who attended—spoke out against the regulations: Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) took in $108,000, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) received $166,000, Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) had $201,000, and Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) is the committee’s top recipient of industry cash with $206,000.
  • On the other hand, the committee members who emphasized the need for safety took a mere combined $4,500 from oil and gas between Reps. Holt, Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
  • Members of the House Natural Resources Committee received a total of more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry during the 2012 election cycle.

(Bold names indicate members who spoke at the hearing. Members shaded brown spoke against the DOI rulemaking, and members in green were supportive.)

In the rest of the country, worries about fracking are high, with what was thought to be the first county-level ban on fracking passed in Mora County, New Mexico last week. In Washington, however, Rep. Hastings and others were more concerned with lowering the number of regulations on what they call “energy job creators.”

It will be a few weeks until the public will know whether the Department of the Interior has indeed watered down its proposed regulations due to pressure by the natural gas industry and pro-fracking legislators, but considering how many lawmakers are getting big checks from natural gas it is reasonable to wonder whether these members of Congress are making decisions based on the facts or their funders.