House appropriations bill blocks fracking rule in Indian Country

A fracking operation in North Dakota. Photo by Joshua Doubek / Wikipedia

The House Appropriations Committee approved a funding bill on Tuesday that prevents the Obama administration from enforcing a fracking rule in Indian Country.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, introduced the rider at a lengthy markup session on the controversial appropriations measure. He said the rule, which is due to take effect next week, will hinder development in Indian Country rather than address health, safety and environmental issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing, an energy processing technique used across the nation.

"That's what this is really aimed at -- slowing down exploration and production -- not protecting drinking water," said Cole, who is one of only two members of a federally recognized tribe in Congress. "In my view, we shouldn't fund it, we shouldn't enforce it and ultimately we should allow the states to regulate it."

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) is one of just only members of a federally recognized tribe in Congress. Photo from Flickr

Although Cole focused most of his remarks on the role of states, his amendment equally applies to Indian Country. Some tribes objected to the inclusion of their lands in the fracking rule, which was finalized by the Bureau of Land Management in March and was accompanied by a 395-page explanation document.

"In Indian Country, they've done a good job of regulating their own land," said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), the chairman of the Interior appropriations subcommittee. "This is an important resource to them. It's been able to, in many cases, bring them out of poverty."

"We're putting this regulation that will make them very uncompetitive in a very competitive world," Calvert added.

According to the Interior Department, the Act of March 3, 1909, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 and the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 require Indian lands to receive the "same protections" as public lands. Some tribes -- mainly those with large land bases -- disagree with that analysis and some wanted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop its own fracking standards.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota hosts more than 1,000 fracking wells, the subject of an EPA drinking water study. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News

Those concerns were dismissed in the final regulation. "The BLM does not assert that implementing its operational regulations on oil and gas operations on Indian lands is the only possible way to carry out the Secretary’s trust responsibilities under the Indian mineral statutes cited earlier," the accompanying document states.

"Nonetheless, it is the means chosen by the Secretary and the BIA, and is more economic than creating a parallel set of regulations and regulatory personnel in the BIA," it continues. "The BLM believes it is fulfilling its part of the Secretary’s trust responsibilities by requiring operations on Indian lands to meet the same standards as those on federal lands."

However, the rule allows both tribes and states to request a "variance" if their laws and regulations carry equal or more protective standards. "The BLM recognizes that some tribes have been proactive in regulating hydraulic fracturing on their lands," the document states.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Appropriations Committee Debate on Fracking Amendment

Cole's amendment was approved by a voice vote, with the Republican majority ignoring the "No" votes from the Democratic members of the committee. A recorded vote, however, was not requested by the minority.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), the ranking Democrat on the Interior subcommittee, spoke out against the rider. She said the BLM should be allowed to move forward with the regulation and work with states to address any variances.

"There's a lot of the states that haven't adopted any regulations," added Rep. Sam Farr (D-California).

The fracking rule, Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands, was published in the Federal Register on March 26. It goes into effect on June 24.

Relevant Documents:
FY 2016 Interior and Environment Bill - Full Committee Draft | FY 2016 Interior and Environment Bill - Draft Committee Report | FY 2016 Interior and Environment Bill - Adopted Amendments | Rep. Tom Cole Fracking Amendment

Committee Notice:
Full Committee Markup - FY 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill (June 16, 2015)

Federal Register Notice:
Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands (March 26, 2015)

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