Oil and gas regulations turning into a circus

05/20/2011

The development of shale gas has been described as nothing less than a revolution in world energy. This growth of the natural gas market is now being met with a scrum of state and federal agencies competing for entry to the regulatory big top.

It’s almost Newtonian in its predictability: With every positive development in our economy and bid for energy independence there is a resisting counterforce of shrill opponents. “No Fracking” has become the battle cry of those who are painting the oil and gas industry as the Great Satan seeking to sacrifice the environment and therefore humanity on the altar of corporate greed.

Although there is no shortage of state and local government agencies already active in the regulatory process, the EPA has nominated itself as the champion of the opponents of the O&G industry. This is the same federal agency whose chairwoman, Lisa Jackson, has declared her agency will spearhead federal efforts to rid the nation of the “tyranny of oil,” a phrase coined by President Obama.

This agency, an instrument of the federal government’s executive branch, is too impatient to recognize Constitutional protocols; that is, legislation giving EPA the power it impatiently seeks. Similarly, neither science nor the Constitutional imperative of due process in law will be part of the equation in the EPA’s efforts, judging by its efforts to railroad Range Resources in Texas with a “fire, ready, aim” assault bereft of any semblance of rational fact-finding, scientific data or due process.

The EPA’s over-reaching has been bracketed by the toxic Hollywood horror script in the mold of Michael Moore and the self-admitted baseless conclusions of Cornell University Professor Robert Howarth’s report. Such hysteria serves no purpose other than as a distraction from reason and rational debate.

The opportunistic politicians and radical environmentalists claim that protection of the environment and development of our natural resources are mutually exclusive. Of course, none have announced their willingness to forfeit electricity, their cars or other products made with hydrocarbons. At the risk of surrendering to their appeals to passion and prejudice, maybe the prudent course is to allow state, county, water district and local authorities to do their jobs.

Just as all politics are said to be local, so also are the regulatory demands in Texas distinct from those in Pennsylvania and New York. Regulating this industry is a process in which the EPA one-size-fits-all approach is ill-suited to a regulatory scheme requiring the flexibility to develop in a varied geographic landscape.

This process has no absolutes, and nobody is suggesting state and local authorities are unmindful of the need for environmental protection in regulating the development of natural gas. In fact, they are charged by law with that responsibility. They do not need a big brother to cocoon their efforts and the industry with an additional web of federal regulations.

It may sound radical to the EPA and the overzealous fringe of environmentalists, but this writer shares the belief that “shale gas holds much promise, and the government’s role should be to help achieve it efficiently, safely and without overburdening regulations.”

And, having worked with and alongside the oil and gas industry for nearly 40 years, I believe that this vital industry of our nation welcomes an opportunity to demonstrate again its strong corporate citizenship.

Tom Kurth, a trial lawyer specializing in energy law with Haynes and Boone, LLP, will be a speaker at the Platts Sixth Annual Oil and Gas Shale Developer Conference in Houston, June 21-22.

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PDF - Oil_and_gas_regulations.pdf

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