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Trump Administration Abandons Tighter Regulations For Fracking On Public Land

Workers move a section of well casing into place at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County.
Ralph Wilson
workers move a section of well casing into place at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County.

The Trump administration decided quietly over the holidays to abandon proposed federal regulations governing fracking on public lands. For Ohio environmentalists, the decision is big and bad news. However, the state's oil and gas industry sees it as a practical approach to regulation.

The Interior Department has rescinded a proposed Obama administration rule that would have set limits on hydraulic fracturing in places like Ohio’s Wayne National Forest. The rules would have tightened standards for well construction and required disclosure of toxic chemicals contained in fracking fluids.

But Mike Chadsey of Ohio’s Oil and Gas Association says Ohio already has adequate disclosure and other requirements and states are better positioned to set standards.

“We’ve got folks that live in the areas they regulate. The county regulator lives in that county," Chadsey said. "That is far superior than someone in D.C. saying hey do XYZ and they’ve never even been to Monroe County.”

But Nathan Johnson of the Ohio Environmental Council says disclosure rules regarding chemical spills aren’t enough.

“We have some limited propriety chemical requirements in Ohio, under state law, but we’re really missing out on the stronger first-responder type of disclosure we could have seen,” Johnson said.

He cites an explosion in 2014 just outside the Wayne National Forest, in which operator Halliburton took several days to disclose the chemicals.

Chadsey says state regulations supply the needed information to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and ensure it's available to first responders.

Johnson has another concern about the loss of the proposed federal requirement that companies store their drilling waste in special tanks. He says under Ohio law, such tanks aren’t required, and operators often opt for open pits.

“This stuff is highly toxic. When it’s just out in an open pit there’s a much greater risk of leaks and spills," Johnson said. "And wildlife are often also negatively impacted. Birds and bats, it’s known that these pits often attract them and are sort of death traps for these species.”