Frack­ing In­dus­try Pushes the ON­SHORE ACT

Trillions - - In this Issue -

A new bill, known as the “ON­SHORE Act,” is currently un­der de­vel­op­ment and re­view be­fore the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Sub­com­mit­tee on En­ergy and Min­eral Re­sources. If passed in any­thing like its cur­rent state, it would trans­fer most of the man­age­ment author­ity for ob­tain­ing per­mits for fed­eral oil and gas re­source ex­plo­ration rights to the states.

If en­acted into law as ex­pected, it would likely mean vastly more frack­ing on fed­er­ally ad­min­is­tered pub­lic lands and more de­struc­tion of those lands, con­tam­i­na­tion of wa­ter aquifers and sur­face wa­ter.

The bill in ques­tion has no num­ber yet be­cause it is still un­der re­view. Its short name, the “ON­SHORE Act,” is an acro­nym for the full name, the “Op­por­tu­ni­ties for the Na­tion and States to Har­ness On­shore Re­sources Act.”

Writ­ten ap­par­ently in re­sponse to com­plaints about the time-con­sum­ing and costly process to re­quest per­mis­sion for oil or gas ex­plo­ration on fed­er­ally owned pub­lic lands across the coun­try, this new pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would stream­line that process so that, upon re­ceipt of a re­quest for a per­mit for oil or gas ex­plo­ration in­volv­ing fed­er­ally pro­tected land, “the Sec­re­tary [of the In­te­rior] may del­e­gate a State ex­clu­sive author­ity – (1) to is­sue and en­force per­mits to drill on avail­able Fed­eral land; or (2) to ap­prove and en­force drilling plans on avail­able Fed­eral land.”

All that com­pa­nies in­ter­ested in tak­ing ad­van­tage of th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties have to pro­vide are an ap­pli­ca­tion with “a de­scrip­tion of the State reg­u­la­tory pro­gram that the State pro­poses to es­tab­lish and ad­min­is­ter un­der State law,” which would cover this land, and “a state­ment from the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of such State that the laws of such State pro­vide ad­e­quate author­ity to carry out the State reg­u­la­tory pro­gram.” The Sec­re­tary can ap­prove the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­vided the fol­low­ing has been de­ter­mined:

• “The State ap­pli­cant would be at least as ef­fec­tive as the Sec­re­tary in is­su­ing and en­forc­ing per­mits to drill or in ap­prov­ing and en­forc­ing drilling plans, as ap­pli­ca­ble.”

• “The State reg­u­la­tory pro­gram of the State ap­pli­cant com­plies with this act and pro­vides for the ter­mi­na­tion or mod­i­fi­ca­tion of a per­mit to drill, or ap­proval of a drilling plan, for cause.” That cause can in­clude “the vi­o­la­tion of any con­di­tion of such per­mit or ap­proval, ob­tain­ing or ap­proval by mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion, or fail­ure to fully dis­close in an

ap­pli­ca­tion un­der this sub­sec­tion [of the act] all rel­e­vant facts.” [This last quoted bit doesn’t flow prop­erly. Is some­thing miss­ing? – Jane]“

• The State ap­pli­cant has suf­fi­cient ad­min­is­tra­tive and tech­ni­cal per­son­nel and suf­fi­cient fund­ing to carry out the State reg­u­la­tory pro­gram.”

• “The State ap­pli­cant pro­vided no­tice to the pub­lic, so­licited pub­lic com­ment, and held a pub­lic hear­ing within the State.”

• “Ap­proval of the ap­pli­ca­tion would not re­sult in de­creased roy­alty pay­ments to the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment.”

As to the lands cov­ered by this pro­posed bill, the list is quite large. It de­scribes the phrase “avail­able fed­eral land” as land that:

• “is lo­cated within the bound­aries of the state”

• “is not held by the United States in trust for the ben­e­fit of a fed­er­ally rec­og­nized In­dian Tribe or a mem­ber of such an In­dian Tribe”

• “is not a unit of the National Park Sys­tem”

• “is not a Con­gres­sion­ally ap­proved wilder­ness area un­der the Wilder­ness Act” That land must also have:

• “been iden­ti­fied as land avail­able for lease for the ex­plo­ration, de­vel­op­ment, and pro­duc­tion of oil and gas,” ei­ther“by the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment un­der a re­source man­age­ment plan un­der the process pro­vided for in the Fed­eral Land Man­age­ment and Pol­icy Act of 1976” or

• an in­te­grated ac­tiv­ity plan with re­spect to the National Petroleum Re­serve in Alaska” or

• “by the For­est Ser­vice un­der a for­est man­age­ment plan un­der the process pro­vided for in the National For­est Man­age­ment Act of 1976”

In short, with a very sim­ple ap­pli­ca­tion process and a stream­lined set of de­ter­mi­na­tions from the Sec­re­tary, a state with avail­able fed­eral land (as de­scribed above) can, to a large ex­tent, take over a very large swath of what used to be solely fed­eral reg­u­la­tory author­ity re­spon­si­bil­ity for that land. The state need not con­sider any national pri­or­i­ties for that land in the process – some­thing that was al­ways part of the pre­vi­ous ap­pli­ca­tion re­quire­ments. There is also no for­mal pro­vi­sion for fed­eral re­view of what may hap­pen after the fact on those state lands.

This means that states would now have, by the flick of a sig­na­ture at the fed­eral level, ex­clu­sive author­ity to is­sue and en­force drilling and well per­mits on fed­eral lands. States would also now have the right to pri­or­i­tize frack­ing and drilling for oil and gas as they see fit, with­out any national pol­icy guid­ing what they are do­ing.

Strangely, the bill’s cur­rent pream­ble states that the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the bill is “to achieve do­mes­tic en­ergy in­de­pen­dence by em­pow­er­ing States to man­age the de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of oil and gas on avail­able Fed­eral land, and for other pur­poses.” This is de­spite the fact that, to a large ex­tent, the United States has not been de­pen­dent on for­eign oil dur­ing the past 10 years. Those 10 years in­cluded a slow phase-out of some of the riskier oil and gas ex­plo­ration ac­tiv­i­ties in the United States; strong com­pli­ance with more ef­fi­cient oil and gas uti­liza­tion in ev­ery­thing from plant op­er­a­tion to au­to­mo­bile mileage; and heavy in­vest­ments, now be­ing phased out as they are no longer needed, to stim­u­late the use of re­new­able re­sources such as so­lar and wind.

The likely real rea­son for the bill is that it is much cheaper to cor­rupt state of­fi­cials than fed­eral of­fi­cials. The oil & gas in­dus­try al­ready con­trols many state gov­er­ments.

The prob­lem with frack­ing is that it per­me­ates the bar­rier be­tween ground­wa­ter and gas and oil de­posits and con­tam­i­nates vast amounts of wa­ter with highly toxic chem­i­cals. A cas­ing is in­tended to sep­a­rate the two; it does so in most cases but not in ev­ery case, and over time the cas­ing de­te­ri­o­rates and the ground­wa­ter is con­tam­i­nated, last­ing far into the fu­ture. Some of this ground­wa­ter ends up in sur­face wa­ter, where it poi­sons the en­vi­ron­ment. Over the long term, frack­ing is ex­tremely de­struc­tive, and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions (if there are any) will have to deal with an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter of unimag­in­able pro­por­tions.

Amer­i­cans are en­cour­aged to op­pose the bill and support green en­ergy. Now is a great time to pro­duce your own power and drive an elec­tric ve­hi­cle. For about the cost of a fancy new Ford F250 4x4 pickup truck, one can power their house with so­lar and wind, buy an in­ex­pen­sive elec­tric car and, for the most part, stop us­ing oil, gas and coal.

The bill is still in com­mit­tee. Tril­lions will con­tinue to fol­low the progress of the bill as de­bates in the House con­tinue and it de­vel­ops fur­ther.

Note: All the com­ments in this ar­ti­cle are based on the Oc­to­ber 6 re­vi­sion of the ON­SHORE Act. Sub­se­quent re­vi­sions could have sig­nif­i­cant changes.

Photo by Ecoflight, cc

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