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ND protests federal 'one-size-fits-all' approach to oil, gas regulation

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Arguing that states require flexibility in regulation and that North Dakota already has strong safeguards, the state's congressional delegation has joined a list of oil- and gas-producing states in protesting rules that would regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land.

The proposed Bureau of Land Management regulations are the first update to federal regulations since 1983, and so are the first substantial federal response to modern fracking practices. The rules require companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, ensure the construction soundness of wells to protect groundwater and require operators to have appropriate plans for managing flowback waters.

North Dakota already requires the disclosure of chemicals on, which the new BLM rules also would require.

"The unique geology, technology, and innovation in North Dakota exemplifies why a one-size-fits-all federal approach to oil and gas regulation does not work," Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer wrote in the Aug. 23 letter.

Officials from Montana, Alabama, Alaska and Oklahoma have also sent the Department of the Interior a letter protesting the proposed regulations.

The department received the letter and is reviewing it, according to an Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The problem, opponents say, isn't as much the rules themselves as where they're coming from -- states know themselves best, they say.

"The letter doesn't ask for us to be absolved of regulation, just of federal oversight because we already have such good and proven state oversight," Cramer said in an interview.

"My greatest objection ... is it disrespects the state."

Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Mineral Resources, said, "North Dakota knows our geology best."

She said the state is also well-staffed, with 25 inspectors in western North Dakota.

"It's one thing to have a rule in place, but you have to have that effective enforcement and regulation in place to do it," she said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a member of the state's Industrial Commission, supports the delegation's letter.

In a statement, he called his state "a leader in developing rules for hydraulic fracturing."

"We think our regulations are good, they are strict and they deserve the opportunity to be enforced at the state level," he said.

The Interior Department official stressed that Secretary Sally Jewell made clear upon the release of the revised rules that the BLM will work with states and tribes with standards already in place to avoid duplication or delays.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission -- composed of Dalrymple, the attorney general and the agriculture commissioner -- regulates the oil and gas industry through the state Department of Mineral Resources.

"States require this flexibility and primacy in regulating oil and gas production in order to make adjustments based on their expertise and on the ground assessments," Heitkamp, Hoeven and Cramer wrote.

According to the Interior Department, nationwide about 36 million acres of federal land are currently under lease for oil and gas development.

Both Hoeven and Cramer said these rules -- the first federal regulations for fracking -- could lead to more federal interference with state affairs.

"Once they're involved a little bit," Cramer said, "the federal government has a tendency to get involved a lot."

He said he was told the new rules would be finalized sometime next year.

"It's sound, we're very sophisticated in how we do it, it works," Hoeven said, "and now they've just put a whole second layer on top."