Fracking Industry Pushes the ONSHORE Act

A new bill, known as the “ONSHORE Act,” is currently under development and review before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. If passed in anything like its current state, it would transfer most of the management authority for obtaining permits for federal oil and gas resource exploration rights to the states.

If enacted into law as expected, it would likely mean vastly more fracking on federally administered public lands and more destruction of those lands, contamination of water aquifers and surface water.

The bill in question has no number yet because it is still under review. Its short name, the “ONSHORE Act,” is an acronym for the full name, the “Opportunities for the Nation and States to Harness Onshore Resources Act.”

Written apparently in response to complaints about the time-consuming and costly process to request permission for oil or gas exploration on federally owned public lands across the country, this new proposed legislation would streamline that process so that, upon receipt of a request for a permit for oil or gas exploration involving federally protected land, “the Secretary of the Interior may delegate a State exclusive authority – (1) to issue and enforce permits to drill on available Federal land; or (2) to approve and enforce drilling plans on available Federal land.”

All that companies interested in taking advantage of these opportunities have to provide are an application with “a description of the State regulatory program that the State proposes to establish and administer under State law,” which would cover this land, and “a statement from the Attorney General of such State that the laws of such State provide adequate authority to carry out the State regulatory program.” The Secretary can approve the application provided the following has been determined:

  • “The State applicant would be at least as effective as the Secretary in issuing and enforcing permits to drill or in approving and enforcing drilling plans, as applicable.”
  • “The State regulatory program of the State applicant complies with this act and provides for the termination or modification of a permit to drill, or approval of a drilling plan, for cause.” That cause can include “the violation of any condition of such permit or approval, obtaining or approval by misrepresentation, or failure to fully disclose in an application under this subsection [of the act] all relevant facts.”
  • The State applicant has sufficient administrative and technical personnel and sufficient funding to carry out the State regulatory program.”
  • “The State applicant provided notice to the public, solicited public comment, and held a public hearing within the State.”
  • “Approval of the application would not result in decreased royalty payments to the Federal Government.”

As to the lands covered by this proposed bill, the list is quite large. It describes the phrase “available federal land” as land that:

  • “is located within the boundaries of the state”
  • “is not held by the United States in trust for the benefit of a federally recognized Indian Tribe or a member of such an Indian Tribe”
  • “is not a unit of the National Park System”
  • “is not a Congressionally approved wilderness area under the Wilderness Act” That land must also have:
  • “been identified as land available for lease for the exploration, development, and production of oil and gas,” either“ by the Bureau of Land Management under a resource management plan under the process provided for in the Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976” or
  • an integrated activity plan with respect to the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska” or
  • “by the Forest Service under a forest management plan under the process provided for in the National Forest Management Act of 1976”

In short, with a very simple application process and a streamlined set of determinations from the Secretary, a state with available federal land (as described above) can, to a large extent, take over a very large swath of what used to be solely federal regulatory authority responsibility for that land. The state need not consider any national priorities for that land in the process – something that was always part of the previous application requirements. There is also no formal provision for federal review of what may happen after the fact on those state lands.

This means that states would now have, by the flick of a signature at the federal level, exclusive authority to issue and enforce drilling and well permits on federal lands. States would also now have the right to prioritize fracking and drilling for oil and gas as they see fit, without any national policy guiding what they are doing.

Strangely, the bill’s current preamble states that the justification for the bill is “to achieve domestic energy independence by empowering States to manage the development and production of oil and gas on available Federal land, and for other purposes.” This is despite the fact that, to a large extent, the United States has not been dependent on foreign oil during the past 10 years. Those 10 years included a slow phase-out of some of the riskier oil and gas exploration activities in the United States; strong compliance with more efficient oil and gas utilization in everything from plant operation to automobile mileage; and heavy investments, now being phased out as they are no longer needed, to stimulate the use of renewable resources such as solar and wind.

The likely real reason for the bill is that it is much cheaper to corrupt state officials than federal officials.  The oil & gas industry already controls many state governments.

The problem with fracking is that it permeates the barrier between groundwater and gas and oil deposits and contaminates vast amounts of water with highly toxic chemicals. A casing is intended to separate the two; it does so in most cases but not in every case, and over time the casing deteriorates and the groundwater is contaminated, lasting far into the future. Some of this groundwater ends up in surface water, where it poisons the environment. Over the long term, fracking is extremely destructive, and future generations (if there are any) will have to deal with an environmental disaster of unimaginable proportions.

Americans are encouraged to oppose the bill and support green energy. Now is a great time to produce your own power and drive an electric vehicle. For about the cost of a fancy new Ford F250 4x4 pickup truck, one can power their house with solar and wind, buy an inexpensive electric car and, for the most part, stop using oil, gas and coal.

The bill is still in committee. Trillions will continue to follow the progress of the bill as debates in the House continue and it develops further.

Note: All the comments in this article are based on the October 6 revision of the ONSHORE Act. Subsequent revisions could have significant changes.