Despite Reg Rollbacks, Fracking Businesses Struggle Due to Oil and Gas Glut

Fracking operation, Permian Basin, 2019    Photo:

A judge on Friday upheld the Trump Administration’s rollback of environmental standards for fracking on federal land saying that the President’s rule change met the “low bar” by providing enough of an explanation to stand, The Hill reported The Obama rule required companies to say what chemicals they use in fracking, make them cover surface ponds that contain fracking fluids and also set well construction.  Even so, two of the largest companies who conduct hydraulic fracking operations are, according to the Houston Chronicle, slashing production and spending —  for example, Halliburton, which leads the world in fracking, may shut down two-thirds of its rigs in the Permian Basin by the fall.

Why This Matters:  This rollback is on top of the suspension of enforcement of environmental rules that the Administration announced on Thursday.  There will be much more pollution in the air and water and on land as a result — at the very time when we urgently need to be protecting people’s health and immune systems and particularly their lungs.  The Trump Administration can try all they want to help keep the oil and gas industry from cutting back, but none of it will be enough to overcome the price war with Russia and Saudi Arabia – the oil companies are going ahead with cuts despite it all.  And the people who will be hurt are the workers for those big companies who will need help when their jobs don’t come back after the pandemic.

Oil and Gas Industry Group Pushed For Enforcement Leniency

As if whatever stimulus support they will receive was not enough, oil and gas industry lobbyists sent the Administration a detailed letter asking for help on March 23.  According to Inside Climate News, the “EPA went further than meeting the oil industry’s request—announcing a blanket policy suspending enforcement and civil penalties for any regulated entity that can show COVID-19 was the cause of a failure to comply with the law.”  The industry was seeking relief from “its obligations under consent decrees over past air and water pollution violations at its refineries, deferral of requirements on the handling of fracking wastewater and a pause in reporting its greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.”

Environmental groups were angry about the EPA decision. Inside Climate News quoted Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who served as administrator of the EPA during the Obama administration, saying “This is an open license to pollute….The administration should be giving its all toward making our country healthier right now. Instead it is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health.”

The Administration Cheered the Court Decision 

The judge in the case, an Obama appointee, held that the Bureau of Land Management provided a “reasoned explanation” for its decision to rescind the Obama administration’s rule, according to Bloomberg Environment.  The Bureau of Land Management, that administers fracking on federal land praised the decision saying, “This ruling will allow the Department to continue to implement the President’s direction to repeal overly burdensome regulations and ensure America’s energy independence, while protecting the safety of our workers and the health of our environment,” the Interior Department said in a statement.

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