StateImpact, in collaboration with NPR and KUT Austin

Is A Gridlocked Congress Good For Texas Oil & Gas?

Photo by: Dave Fehling
Pumpjack in Price, Texas
Last week, there was a lot of news out of Washington about the "partisan gridlock" that has prevented Republicans and Democrats from compromising and passing laws. It's an important issue to the Texas oil & gas industry. In some ways, the industry thinks it could benefit more if the federal government does less. StateImpact reporter Dave Fehling explains why that is.

Is a Gridlocked Congress Good or Bad for Texas Oil & Gas?

The less Washington does, the happier some people are in the energy business.

“Leave us alone, that’s what I want out of Washington,” said Skip Horvath, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association. He spoke last week in Houston at the Deloitte Oil & Gas Conference.

“My job is to make sure the federal government doesn’t get its nose in fracking regulations because the states are doing a great job of that right now. Even though they’re increasing their regs, they’re doing it in a way that we find manageable and rational,” Horvath said in his presentation at a hotel in downtown Houston.  

 

A Bill to Keep Fed Hands Off Fracking

The natural gas industry is concerned that the U.S. EPA will begin cracking down on hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique known as fracking that has been such a boon to natural gas production.  

Currently, federal regulators have almost no power over drilling operations. Instead, state agencies like the Railroad Commission of Texas handle it.

Industry watchdogs say it’s understandable why the oil & gas industry prefers state regulators to federal ones.

“Because the state level is where (the industry) tends to have the most influence,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The preference for state regulation is seen in a bill passed by the U.S. House last week. It prohibits federal regulation of fracking on federal lands in states that have their own drilling rules.

That may sound like a victory for the gas & oil industry but in today’s gridlocked Congress, maybe not. Rep. Gene Green, a Democratic from Houston, said the bill will never survive in the Senate. He voted against it even though he likes fracking.

“I was frustrated. I support fracking. I support production. But the bill wasn’t going to go anywhere. It wasn’t going to help us at all drill one more well,” Green said.

Rep. Green has been in Congress for two decades. He said that in an earlier, more congenial time lawmakers would have worked out a compromise that might actually have become law.

 

‘Our poll numbers are so low’

“This is probably why our poll numbers in both the House and the Senate are so low. We’re letting partisan gridlock get in the way of trying to solve problems our country needs to be solved,” Green told StateImpact.

Environmental groups that support federal regulation likewise see gridlock as an impediment.

“We’d obviously like to see more federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing. That may not be where industry is, but having things come to a standstill is not helpful,” said Goldston.

“It’s not like this is a new idea at this point,” Goldston told StateImpact. “Why — when we have clean air and water acts that apply to other activities — should fracking be exempt?”

Bio photo of Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Energy & Environment Reporter for StateImpact

Dave Fehling is KUHF's Energy and Environment Reporter. His reporting is a part of StateImpact, a collaboration with KUT in Austin and NPR...