Nat­u­ral-gas pro­duc­ers fear rules blitz

Scru­tiny by EPA, CDC, In­te­rior, oth­ers ‘un­prece­dented’

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

With the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ramp­ing up the pres­sure on nat­u­ral-gas drilling com­pa­nies, in­dus­try lead­ers fear a loom­ing wave of fed­eral reg­u­la­tions could stran­gle what has be­come one of the most vi­brant sec­tors of the econ­omy.

At least 10 fed­eral de­part­ments and agen­cies are in­ves­ti­gat­ing or craft­ing new rules to gov­ern “frack­ing,” the pop­u­lar gas-ex­trac­tion tech­nique that has led di­rectly to the cre­ation of thou­sands of jobs in Penn­syl­va­nia, North Dakota, Wy­oming and other states.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is lead­ing the way, and later this year will re­lease its long-awaited re­port on the safety of the prac­tice. Many an­a­lysts fear the study will in­dict frack­ing as un­safe and call for crip­pling reg­u­la­tions.

In ad­di­tion, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ken­neth L. Salazar has pro­posed rais­ing royalty rates by 50 per­cent for com­pa­nies drilling for oil and gas on public lands. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion has called for a wide study into po­ten­tial health prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with gas drilling. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Agri­cul­ture, Com­merce, Trans­porta­tion and other de­part­ments have also got­ten in the mix with a va­ri­ety of stud­ies and pro­posed reg­u­la­tions.

The spi­der web of po­ten­tial rules has some in­sid­ers fear­ing that, de­spite public state­ments to the con­trary by Pres­i­dent Obama and other of­fi­cials, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­tent on slow­ing down the in­dus­try.

“The di­rec­tion they’re headed won’t be con­ducive to the de­vel­op­ment of en­ergy we know our na­tion will need,” said Kyle Isakower, vice pres­i­dent for reg­u­la­tory and eco­nomic pol­icy at the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute, in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters on Thurs­day. “This ap­pears to be un­prece­dented. When you see 10 agen­cies work­ing on one is­sue, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, that is not the norm. The pres­i­dent him­self has called for fed­eral agen­cies to re­view their reg­u­la­tions to try and re­duce and stream­line re­quire­ments from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. That’s what they should be do­ing in this case as well.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies are al­ready hav­ing an ef­fect. Since 2008, the num­ber of oil and gas wells on public lands in Western states — Colorado, Mon­tana, New Mex­ico, North Dakota, Utah and Wy­oming — has dropped by at least 39 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to API. A huge hike in royalty rates, as pro­posed by Mr. Salazar, would likely ham­per pro­duc­tion even fur­ther.

“It’s a ba­sic eco­nomic prin­ci­ple: If you want less of some­thing, tax or charge more for it,” Barry Rus­sell, pres­i­dent and CEO of the In­de­pen­dent Petroleum As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, said in a re­cent state­ment.

While the most se­vere reg­u­la­tions could be down the road, the EPA may have al­ready caused sig­nif­i­cant dam­age in the public re­la­tions arena. Last year, it re­leased a draft study blam­ing frack­ing for water con­tam­i­na­tion in the small town of Pav­il­ion, Wyo. The re­port has yet to un­dergo an in­de­pen­dent, third­party re­view, as is typ­i­cally the case. EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Lisa P. Jack­son and other of­fi­cials have stressed that it ap­plies only to the sit­u­a­tion in Pav­il­ion, and shouldn’t be used to draw con­clu­sions about frack­ing in other ar­eas of the coun­try.

But those state­ments, Mr. Isakower said, do lit­tle to stop en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and other fos­sil-fuel crit­ics from latch­ing onto the re­port and us­ing it to de­mo­nize the gas busi­ness.

“We don’t feel that the draft re­port should’ve been re­leased be­fore it had gone through peer re­view,” he said. “A great many groups have used that study, touted it, for jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for why [frack­ing] needs to be un­der much greater reg­u­la­tion at the fed­eral level.”

A decision by the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in Cal­i­for­nia to put sev­eral de­por­ta­tion cases on hold in light of Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion im­mi­gra­tion di­rec­tives was crit­i­cized Thurs­day by two se­nior Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers who said the court rul­ing was an “over­reach of its au­thor­ity.”

House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Smith, Texas Re­pub­li­can, and Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee rank­ing Re­pub­li­can Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa asked At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. and Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet A. Napoli­tano to make clear to the court that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will en­force im­mi­gra­tion laws, in­clud­ing the de­por­ta­tion of re­mov­able il­le­gal and crim­i­nal im­mi­grants who lose their cases in the fed­eral court of ap­peals.

“The Ninth Cir­cuit’s decision to put sev­eral de­por­ta­tion cases on hold is an over­reach of ju­di­cial au­thor­ity and shows the in­her­ent dan­ger in this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s backdoor amnesty poli­cies,” they wrote in a let­ter. “In­stead of de­cid­ing these cases un­der the law of the land, the Ninth Cir­cuit has asked the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion whether it in­tends to grant the il­le­gal im­mi­grants amnesty un­der the pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­cre­tion ini­tia­tive an­nounced last year.”

Mr. Smith and Mr. Grass­ley said the or­der ap­pears to be the court’s at­tempt to sus­pend its ev­ery­day re­view of im­mi­gra­tion cases be­cause of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans to close tens of thou­sands of cases for the 300,000 aliens who are in re­moval pro­ceed­ings.

“The Ninth Cir­cuit has acted be­yond the bounds of its ju­di­cial role and is in­sert­ing it­self into an area — pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­cre­tion — re­served solely to the ex­ec­u­tive branch,” they said.

The law­mak­ers said that in re­spond­ing to the court, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will be re­quired to re­veal whether it in­tends to “ma­nip­u­late our le­gal sys­tem and waste tax­payer dol­lars, as part of its ef­forts to grant amnesty to il­le­gal im­mi­grants.”

“Your re­sponse to the Ninth Cir­cuit’s or­der must clearly and un­equiv­o­cally in­di­cate that the gov­ern­ment will en­force the im­mi­gra­tion laws, in­clud­ing promptly de­port­ing all re­mov­able aliens who lose their cases in the fed­eral courts of ap­peals,” they said.

“If the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­sponds to the Ninth Cir­cuit or­ders by in­di­cat­ing that the il­le­gal and other re­mov­able aliens will be granted re­lief via amnesty, then it must ex­plain to the Amer­i­can peo­ple what that an­swer means for the in­tegrity of our le­gal sys­tem and why their tax dol­lars are be­ing spent on pros­e­cu­tions the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has no in­ten­tion of en­forc­ing with de­por­ta­tion.” The law­mak­ers said they were “se­ri­ously con­cerned” the court’s or­der ig­nores the rule of law and “con­founds con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples.”

Last month, the 9th Cir­cuit put five de­por­ta­tion cases on hold and asked the gov­ern­ment how the il­le­gal im­mi­grants in those cases fit into the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties out­lined in memos re­leased in June and Novem­ber.

Those memos, by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms E n f o r ce m e n t (ICE) Di­rec­tor John Mor­ton, showed that the ad­min­is­tra­tion had be­gun to ratchet up the pres­sure on Congress to pass con­tro­ver­sial im­mi­gra­tion-re­form mea­sures by re­lax­ing its de­por­ta­tion pro­to­col. A June 17 memo said ICE agents should ex­er­cise “dis­cre­tion” when de­cid­ing who can stay and who must go, while a Nov. 17 memo pro­vided fur­ther guid­ance to ICE at­tor­neys.

The memos sug­gested that spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion should be given to mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, those who have grad­u­ated high school or are pur­su­ing col­lege de­grees, the el­derly, mi­nors, preg­nant women and those with se­ri­ous health con­di­tions. An im­mi­grant’s “ties and con­tri­bu­tions to the com­mu­nity” and his “ties to the home coun­try and the con­di­tions in the coun­try” should also be weighed, ac­cord­ing to the memos.

They also in­structed agents to con­sider a per­son’s crim­i­nal his­tory, as well as whether he is a na­tional se­cu­rity threat or public safety con­cern, be­fore mak­ing a decision on de­por­ta­tion.

“No pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, ir­re­spec­tive of po­lit­i­cal party, has cho­sen, en masse, to place re­stric­tions on the type of re­mov­able aliens that may be pro­cessed (or, in this case, not pro­cessed) for re­moval be­fore the im­mi­gra­tion courts,” the law­mak­ers said.



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