But the Obama administration has maintained that the current rules are outdated after technological innovations that have greatly improved the drilling method’s success and expanded its use. It also maintained that 19 of the 32 states in which the rule would apply lack fracking-specific rules.
“It has been very important to the United States in terms of energy independence and also bringing down the price of oil because of increased supplies. So it has been very important, but it also is out ahead of where regulations have been, and that is why we have chosen to put these regulations in place … where fracking has gone — the pressures, the horizontal drilling — all of that is new and our regulations have not kept pace,” Jewell said.
Litigation is typical for new energy and environmental regulations. But while some rules have questionable legal authority — the section of the Clean Air Act on which the proposed Environmental Protection Agency emissions rule for existing power plants relies, for example, has little case law under it — the fracking regulation is less ambiguous.
“I would agree on that,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs with the Western Energy Alliance, told the Washington Examiner. “It is hard to challenge regulation.”
Still, Sgamma said the Interior Department’s case is far from ironclad. Aside from the potential flouting of the Administrative Procedure Act, she noted Indian tribes have found fault with how the Obama administration consulted them during the rule-making process.
The rule would apply to energy development on tribal land as well as federal land. Oil and gas resources are a significant revenue source for tribes, accounting for $1.1 billion in federal royalty disbursements in fiscal 2014, according to Interior. That’s more than double the $534 million tribes received in fiscal 2008, before the U.S. drilling boom took off.
Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said tribes were very much involved in the process.
“We held two sets of regional meetings [in 2012], which yielded substantive discussions on topics that included the applicability of tribal law, validating water sources, inspection and enforcement, well bore integrity and water management,” Schneider said. “Additional individual consultations and larger meetings with tribal representatives have taken place since that time.”
But Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee said some tribes have told them that wasn’t the case. Committee staff said they’re reaching out to tribes to see if they have concerns about the final rule.
“Tribes with mineral resources were very unhappy when it was first proposed — especially because they were not consulted and since then they have weighed in. The tribes were also unhappy with the substance of the rule. Probably more than anything, what upsets them is that lands held in trust for Indians were being treated under the rule as if they were publicly owned lands,” committee spokeswoman Julia Bell told the Examiner.