If It Works, Kill It

Under regulations announced Friday, fracking on federal lands will be subject to a costly new set of rules covering the entire process of drilling, from application to production.  Under the new rules, drillers must submit a detailed plan with site and wastewater control information as part of a lengthy approval process.  They must provide covered tanks for wastewater storage, a requirement now in force in only ten states.  They must submit a complete report, including a listing of chemicals used within 30 days of well completion.  Drillers on federal land will also be required to post their proprietary formulary of chemicals on a website, which could be subject to hacking or leaks.  Since when has Coke been forced to post its secret formula online?

Coming on top of Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline and a host of other anti-oil and gas actions, including continued opposition to arctic drilling, the fracking regulations are further proof of the administration’s indifference to economic growth.  Altogether, the administration’s hostility toward drilling is costing the nation hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs.

The fact is that the new fracking regulations will deter drilling on federal lands, and perhaps this is the administration’s intent.  Fracking is already heavily regulated in every state.  The real impetus behind the new rules would appear to be political.  As Interior Secretary Sally Jewell admitted, “There is a lot of fear and public concern, particularly about the safety of groundwater and the impact of these operations.”  In other words, wealthy environmentalists are opposed to fracking, no matter what, and high-dollar donors come first, ahead of jobs for working Americans.

“Fear” and “concern” on the part of some are not an adequate justification for federal action.  There’s plenty of fear and concern about childhood vaccinations, but that doesn’t mean government can step in and issue a de facto nationwide ban.  The Department of Interior does have the authority to regulate drilling on federal lands, but it does not have the right to disregard science.

Concerns about fracking center on its alleged connections with groundwater pollution and seismic activity.  A comprehensive report sponsored by the National Science Foundation, “Noble Gases Identify the Mechanisms of Fugitive Gas Contamination in Drinking-Water Wells Overlying the Marcellus and Barnett Shales,” found that fracking itself does not cause groundwater pollution.  In a thorough review of 130 sites, the report discovered not a single case in which pollutants seeped from deep underground where fracking occurs into shallow groundwater.

As for seismic activity, fracking near existing fault lines is known to be associated with increased seismic activity.  It has not been shown that fracking is a cause of this increase, but if it were, would not be a reason to prohibit fracking in most cases.  Science proves that small quakes, whether triggered by fracking or not, release tension along fault lines, thus helping to prevent more destructive earthquakes that would otherwise occur after pressure builds up.  If it could be shown that fracking causes small seismic events, that might be all the more reason to frack.

Citing the lack of science behind Interior’s rulemaking, the Independent Petroleum Association of America has filed suit to block the new regulations.  The American Petroleum Institute has already issued “Community Engagement Guidelines” with regard to fracking, as have other industry groups.  None of these guidelines go as far as the regulations now mandated by the administration. 

It appears that Interior’s fracking regulations have more to do with shoring up support for Obama’s failed presidency than with preventing accidents or safeguarding the environment.  Once again, the anti-growth, anti-progress left has scored a victory at the expense of working Americans.

The left’s vision of returning America back to the Paleolithic Era now controls Democratic Party thinking, much to the harm of ordinary citizens.  The Paleo diet may be all the rage, but try living without modern transportation, heating, electricity, large-scale food production, and national defense.  That vision of America as a pristine wilderness absent the footprint of man underlies the left’s opposition to fracking and to every other sort of development.

“If it works, kill it” is now the mantra of the Obama administration – a far cry from “Yes, we can” and “Change you can believe in.”  Obama has turned loose his regulators on the American economy, with predictable results: the lowest post-recession GDP growth rate and wage increases in American history.

Oil and gas drilling has been America’s standout industry of the past six years, producing more new jobs and larger price declines for consumers than any other sector of the economy.  I suppose that is reason enough for Obama’s regulators to want to kill it.  If Obama understood free market theory, he would attempt to match drilling on federal lands with what exists on private, state-regulated lands.  The latest fracking regulations simply confirm that he intends to do all he can to stall energy development for the remainder of his term.  The greater danger is that he will attempt to extend federal regulations to private lease sites currently regulated by the states.

The administration’s new fracking regulations are costly and unnecessary.  They confirm the fact that Obama cares more about wealthy green donors than he does about ordinary Americans.  At least there is hope that if they cannot be blocked in court, the rules can be reversed by a future administration.  A pro-growth, pro-energy administration would return America to the prosperity it enjoyed in the past.  “If it works, kill it” should not be the principle of government.  What’s needed is an economy that works, and government that allows it to do so.   

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American politics and culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).