- - Monday, September 17, 2012

States’ rights come with states’ responsibilities. Wyoming time and again has proved it can promote development, support its economy and protect the environment. From hydraulic-fracturing rules to air-quality strategies, Wyoming leads in developing solutions that work for people and the future, without compromise on clean air, wildlife, land or water. Those of us who call Wyoming home only want to make the state better. Our environment and natural wonders are among the many reasons we choose to live here. We always have them in mind; we know they are important, and so we balance energy development and environmental protection — and we regulate accordingly, getting the balance right. Where Wyoming has gotten it right — regulating at the state level in a reasonable and responsible way — regulation should be left to the state. Such is the case with hydraulic fracturing. The federal government should reward us for our successful regulatory effort, allow us to continue it and put federal regulation aside.

Specifically, in 2010, Wyoming brought together geologists, engineers, industry, landowners, citizens, environmental groups and policymakers to address hydraulic fracturing. As a result, our state developed pace-setting rules. Wyoming did so well that in 2012, the federal government attempted to follow our lead. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began to consider hydraulic-fracturing rules. BLM’s proposed rules are based on those Wyoming drafted, adopted and has followed since 2010. Those proposed federal rules add unnecessary and often repetitive requirements, which add cost and delay projects. They would pile on federal rules over existing, effective state rules, with negative consequences. Those consequences include inconsistency and uncertainty for operators and drillers, which could result — albeit unintentionally — in harm, not benefit.

BLM’s use of Wyoming’s rules as a foundation has, perhaps inadvertently, added steps, twists and even a few locked doors in developing hydraulic-fracturing rules for federal lands. Even discounting factors such as inconsistency and uncertainty, the proposed federal rules do not bring perceptible benefit to the environment or the economy. They intrude into an area Wyoming already has addressed. They add new requirements without sound basis. When the federal government improvidently steps in, it creates a disincentive for states to implement strategies and programs better left to the states to manage. The federal government should recognize the states’ leadership role in many arenas — especially when borrowing state work.

Well-run state permitting and regulatory programs achieve results. They help industry create jobs and maintain environmental standards. Wyoming has a record of success in environmental stewardship, natural-resource development and job generation. We are accountable every day for decisions made and actions taken. We take responsibility. We want to leave a legacy for future generations that is ever better. Our state is simply in the best position to get results.

Wyoming’s hydraulic-fracturing rules are working. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is capable of administering these rules well across private, state and federal lands. State government is nimble. If state rules are a bad fit, they can be changed quickly. In contrast, the federal government by size alone moves at tortoise speed. Examples are plentiful. Pick one, such as the BLM’s well-stimulation regulations, last updated in the 1980s. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has considered changes to its rules 19 times since 1996.

Federal hydraulic-fracturing rules will only exacerbate the problem of chronic federal permitting delays. The delays are attributed to federal staffing issues now. New rules will add new burdens. There are many examples, but well-plugging is a good illustration. According to the Government Accountability Office, the BLM has not managed its liability for non-producing wells that need to be plugged, reclaimed or put back into production. If the agency cannot handle what it has on its plate, it makes no sense to add more.

While the BLM hosted public forums in a few locations (North Dakota, Arkansas, Colorado and Washington, D.C.) and consulted with tribes, industry and the environmental community as it explored its hydraulic-fracturing rules, the BLM has not consulted with states. This is troubling. States are the primary regulators of oil and gas and are better positioned to meet the challenges presented by constantly developing technologies. State rules apply across jurisdictions. BLM rules, on the other hand, would not apply on state or private land.

If there is no consultation with the states when the proposed rules are developed, what will happen when the rules are implemented? What if federal regulations conflict with state regulations? Which rules take precedence? Rules must be consistent and uniform. Water does not understand boundaries. It flows indiscriminately beneath federal, state and deeded land. We need one consistent rule. We already have one in Wyoming.

Oil and gas operations on public lands have been following state environmental oil and gas laws and regulations for decades. Indeed, oil and gas operators on public lands in Wyoming are following hydraulic-fracturing and environmental laws, including “green completion” air regulations.

Oil and gas royalties from drilling on public lands are a significant source of revenue for the federal government and for Wyoming. Affordable domestic energy helps fuel the economy. Unnecessary regulation on public lands could force operators to shift investment away from public lands, resulting, among other things, in less oil and gas, fewer jobs, less multiple-use, less revenue and more dependence on foreign sources.

Both the environment and energy are important to us. Wyoming’s proactive work on hydraulic-fracturing regulation demonstrates our commitment to each. The federal government should show its commitment to sound state regulation by leaving fracturing rules to the state.

Gov. Matthew H. Mead is a Wyoming Republican.