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Last Thursday I sat in on a hearing for the House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and Procurement Reform, where discussion on the possibility of federally regulating fracking caused such a heated debate that it nearly broke out into a “duel” on the Hill. Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Krancer, challenged the director of the Agriculture, Energy, and Environment Program at Cornell University, Dr. Robert Howarth to a duel over the validity of state regulation on environmental issues.

While Howarth expressed concerns about the environmental hazards accompanied by the hydraulic fracturing process, Krancer was more interested in keeping the federal government from poking its head in on the oil and gas industry. Krancer took issue with the way the federal government has “suddenly” taken an interest in these industries where they hadn’t in the past. Both Dr. Howarth and Lori Wrotenberry, who is the Director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, explained that this relatively new and quickly expanding technology needs more research and review. Krancer, however, did not seem convinced.

Ultimately, the debate is over who is the better regulator, the states or the federal government. Although Krancer says that Pennsylvania has all the tools and is taking all the necessary steps to enforce regulations on hazardous drilling practices, the real numbers do not support that claim.  Earthworks’ report on Pennsylvania’s enforcement practices is due out this summer. Check out this enforcement report that Earthworks published about Colorado regulators.

Colorado has good rules, but not good enforcement. While their agencies know what to look for, they don’t have the resources necessary to follow through with penalties for noncompliance. They also lack the willingness to revoke permits and the manpower to check up on oil and gas companies that may be evading the rules.

By Julia Moeller