SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah will join three other states in a legal challenge to a new federal rule that governs hydraulic fracturing, arguing the fledgling regulation duplicates what states are already doing and will be costly and inefficient.
The rule was announced recently by the Bureau of Land Management and comes despite a strenuous campaign by energy-rich states that argued the agency should leave fracking oversight to the states.
Herbert announced Utah's intent to join Wyoming, North Dakota and Colorado in the lawsuit during his remarks Monday at the annual business meeting of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, of which he serves as chairman.
“There is no question the practice of hydraulic fracturing should be regulated in order to ensure protection of the environment,” Herbert said.
“However, adoption of the proposed rule would create an inconsistent, costly and inefficient regulatory system that provides no additional environmental protection or public safety than is offered by programs already enforced by the state,” he said.
The only thing this rule will achieve is more red tape, more delays, fewer jobs, and less revenue for both Utah and the federal treasury.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
Herbert said the new rule will cumulatively cost Utah as much as $243 million a year because individual well costs could reach more than $250,000 per well.
Aside from its duplication problems, the suit alleges the new rule will result in a reduction of energy production on federal and tribal lands, a decrease that will come without an environmental or administrative benefits.
“Utah has a strong regulatory system in place for oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing,” Herbert said. “So far, there have been no instances of environmental damage in Utah related to the integrity of a well undergoing a hydraulic fracturing operation. This is yet another unfortunate example of federal regulatory overreach. The only thing this rule will achieve is more red tape, more delays, fewer jobs, and less revenue for both Utah and the federal treasury.”
Critics of the rule point out that most of the affected land that will fall under the new regulation has already been host to fracking for decades, with state agencies that have done their own monitoring and oversight with regulations crafted with local geology and conditions in mind.
Utah is one of at least eight states that are participants in fracking disclosure requirements administered by the Ground Water Protection Council under the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission.
FracFocus requires companies to disclose what chemicals are being used in the process, which is under fire by environmental groups for its potential impacts to natural resources, including drinking water supplies.
The Utah Geological Survey reports that about 35,000 wells in the United States are fracked annually, and the domestic total of fracked wells is nearly 1 million.
The Bureau of Land Management issued its new fracking rule in March, and by the next month, multiple states — as well as oil companies — launched legal challenges.
The rule not only applies to 750 million acres of public and tribal lands, but wells on private lands in which the mineral is federally managed.
Organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council said the new rule gave states and industry a pass, specifically because it allows the federal agency to defer oversight if it feels state rules are satisfactory.
The rule, they argue, also does not go far enough to foster a transparent disclosure process or apply to a broad enough spectrum of fracking techniques.
Herbert's announcement also comes the same day he declared May 17-23 Utah Energy Development Week. The annual Energy Development Summit is also slated to be held Wednesday and Thursday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. It features a visit by the Colorado governor, as well as the head of the American Petroleum Institute.