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By Alan Kovski
March 24 — By the time new federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing go into effect June 24, the Bureau of Land Management intends to have identified the regulatory variances that will be allowed in some states, BLM Director Neil Kornze said March 24.
Kornze told Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) during a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing that he has begun the work of comparing elements of the new federal rule with Wyoming regulations to determine the regulations that will merit a variance for the state.
He said it is his goal to make that determination for Wyoming “and perhaps with other states” before the new rules have an impact on oil and natural gas development on federal and Indian lands.
A variance may be provided for specific regulations within a state's program that are equal to or more protective than the regulations in the new federal rule, according to the text of the rule, released March 20. Those regulations focus on such factors as well integrity and waste fluid management for any well that is hydraulically fractured, or fracked. A variance will not be available for a state's entire regulatory program.
Lummis said it is worrisome that the variances will be tied to specific regulatory elements rather than a regulatory program. Kornze said that is how the current regulatory system works for oil and gas.
Kornze was testifying at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands. Testifying along with him was Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
Some mineral rights beneath federal lands are held by private parties, a situation called a “split estate.” Privately owned mineral rights underlie about 38 percent of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia and about 93 percent of the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania. BLM manages mineral rights beneath national forests; the Forest Service manages the surface.
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), whose district includes the Monongahela National Forest and a chunk of the Marcellus Shale gas-producing region, asked whether the BLM fracking rule would apply to wells in split estates.
“The regulations would apply,” Kornze responded.
“Good luck with that,” Thompson said.
Referring to the fracking regulations, the Pennsylvania lawmaker said, “I think they're just clearly going against case law and stepping on private property rights owners.”
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Prepared testimony and an archived webcast of the March 24 House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on BLM and Forest Service priorities are available at http://1.usa.gov/1EASkb8.
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