Weather Forecast


ND senator proposes fracking legislation

Photo by Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, asks questions during a tour of a Statoil drilling rig Tuesday in Williston.

WILLISTON -- North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven announced Tuesday he will introduce this week new hydraulic fracturing legislation that would give states more power to regulate energy development.

Hoeven, who is hosting Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on a tour of the Bakken this week, says states, not the federal government, are best equipped to be the primary regulators of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

"Hydraulic fracturing, depending on where you do it, is very different," Hoeven said. "Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach from the federal government doesn't work."

Murkowski, the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, will co-sponsor the proposal.

"It's truly in their (states') best interest to make sure that the processes are safe," Murkowski said.

The Empower States Act would give states the first ability to respond to any violation because states have a stake in protecting their environment, Hoeven said. The legislation also would require a federal agency to consult with state, tribe and local state agencies before drafting new regulations relating to oil and gas development.

A federal agency drafting new regulations would have to develop what Hoeven called a "Statement of Energy and Economic Impact" that would identify adverse effects on energy supply, reliability, price and the potential for job and revenue losses. In addition, the agency would have to show that a state or tribe does not have an existing alternative and that the new regulation is needed to prevent immediate harm to health or the environment.

The bill would strengthen the appeals process of states and tribes by requiring federal courts to "thoroughly review the decision and not just rely on the EPA's findings," according to a news release from Hoeven's office.

During her visit to Williston, Murkowski said federal regulatory practices are holding up North America's energy independence. In Alaska, where more than 60 percent of land is federally controlled, permits can take years to be approved, Murkowski said.

"We have considerable resources but we have been denied access to that resource primarily through federal policies," Murkowski said.

When North Dakota passed Alaska in March to be the second-largest producer of crude in the country, trailing only Texas, "it caused Alaskans to sit up and pay attention," Murkowski said.

North Dakota produced 674,066 barrels of oil per day in July, according to preliminary figures from the Department of Mineral Resources. Alaska produced 415,255 barrels per day in July, according to figures from the Alaska Oil and Conservation Commission.

During a roundtable discussion with industry leaders Tuesday, the senators heard about delays in getting permits to drill on federal lands in North Dakota.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said the approval processes through the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs should be streamlined.

Hall said the tribe should be able to regulate hydraulic fracturing on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, not the Bureau of Land Management or another federal agency.

"We know what's best, how to protect our environment," Hall said.

In North Dakota, hydraulic fracturing, pumping a mixture of water, chemicals and sand or proppant into the ground to force oil out of a well, occurs two miles underground, 8,000 feet below drinking water sources. The process is used in more shallow wells in some other parts of the country, such as natural gas wells in Pennsylvania, where there are concerns about groundwater contamination.

Allowing states to regulate oil development is a theme that often comes up in discussion with North Dakota industry leaders.

"There's nobody in this country who knows better than we do as North Dakotans how to keep our resources safe," geologist Kathy Neset said during a recent presentation to state legislators.

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.