Report Finds States ‘On the Forefront’ of Regulating Oil and Gas

This week, the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) released a new report, State Oil & Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Resources: 2014 Edition, which delves into the state regulatory activity in the 27 states that produce 98 percent of U.S. oil and natural gas. As the report highlights, states are constantly updating and ensuring the continued safety of expanded energy development across the nation.

From Mike Paque, executive director of GWPC:

“There’s no question that state agencies are on the forefront of oil and gas regulation and are diligently working to address the safety and environmental issues surrounding modern energy development. Since our 2009 report, states have continued to update and strengthen their rules addressing the critical areas in nearly every subject area we examined. In addition, state oil and natural gas regulatory agencies have adopted new practices to address the technological, legal and practical changes in oil and gas exploration and production.”

As the report highlights, “states have substantially improved groundwater protection laws and regulations governing oil and natural gas production.” For example, as of July 2014, sixteen states are utilizing FracFocus to report the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids, with ten more states currently considering the system for their reporting. The report also highlights that dozens of new rulemakings have come into place to ensure the continued protection of the environment and groundwater quality. From the report:

“As this updated report documents, there has been continuous and significant regulatory improvement by state oil and gas agencies across the county over the past four years. In fact, from 2009 to 2013, an estimated 82 groundwater-related rulemakings affecting upstream oil and gas E&P were finalized across the United States, including hundreds of discrete rule changes, with many more rulemakings currently ongoing and proposed.” (p. 9)

GWPC’s report also reiterates the proven safety record of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations, and the minimal risk the practice poses to groundwater resources:

“In general, the vertical separation between an oil and gas producing formation and the deepest groundwater zone in many parts of the country can be several thou sand feet. There are cases, however, where the distance between the producing zone and the groundwater zone is much smaller; in such cases, special considerations for constructing wells and conducting well stimulations may apply. However, a GWPC 2008 survey of state regulatory agencies found no determinations of contamination from the relatively shallow hydraulic fracturing of CBM reservoirs (Appendix 1). For this and other reasons, it is reasonable to conclude that the risk of fracture fluid intrusion into groundwater from the hydraulic fracturing of deeper conventional and unconventional oil and gas zones can be considered very low.” (p. 27)

This proven safety record of hydraulic fracturing — a fact that has been reiterated by regulators, experts, and members of the Obama administration alike – is one more testament to the continued effectiveness and leadership of strong state-based oil and gas regulations. As Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commissioner Catherine Foerster stated yesterday, “We were pleased to provide information for the report and to help demonstrate that state oil and gas agencies have developed comprehensive rules for continuous regulatory improvement.”

Leslie Savage, GWPC board president and chief geologist for the oil and gas division of the Railroad Commission of Texas, also reiterated that this report “is part of an ongoing review and assessment of how the community of states is responding to the country’s rapid increase in oil and gas exploration and production.” While energy development continues to soar across the country, creating jobs and new opportunities along the way, it is clear the states are continuing to meet the needs of the public by protecting the environment that we all cherish – and will continue to do so for years to come.

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