Energy Week in Congress

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

This is Energy Week in the House, bringing a flurry of hearings and votes. But, topics in the news may not be on the agenda; for example, induced seismicity is an area of public concern, but Congress will not be considering the topic.

On the other hand, Congress will vote on legislation that would increase oil and gas industry access to the Outer Continental Shelf, a topic that receives little attention from Washington, D.C., media even though it a major industry concern.

The question of whether there should be federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing continues as a public concern, and is the subject of many bills that are introduced, but never acted on.

By way of background: when a bill is introduced, it is sent to a committee that has jurisdiction over the subject. The committee may hold hearings to gather background information, then review and revise the bill language, and finally send it to the floor for a vote. These steps rarely happen. In fact, Congress passes very few of the bills that are introduced—about five percent become law. Energy legislation may be even less successful because the left and right strongly disagree on energy issues, and energy legislation is not required to maintain publicly popular functions such as highway maintenance and veterans medical services.

Looking at the top energy hot-button issues that Congress is showing more or less interest in:

  • Induced seismicity is in the news as noticeable earthquakes have rocked several states. In December 2013, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, requested a joint hearing on the issue of seismic activity induced by the underground injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities. No hearing has been held.
  • Oil and natural gas exports have received a lot of attention from Congress over the past few months, and the House is expected to vote on legislation that would accelerate the approval of LNG export facilities. The possibility that Russia may cut off natural gas exports to Ukraine and Europe has motivated the congressional interest, even though no U.S. exports could reach Europe by next winter.
  • Keystone XL: Pipelines of the future could avoid the current presidential-permit requirement under H.R. 3301 that will get a vote this week. Elimination of presidential permitting of cross-border infrastructure would only apply to future projects, but the Keystone XL approval delays are driving interest and support for the bill.
  • Bills to promote or avoid federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing and bills increasing access to federal lands, together, probably represent more introduced bills than any other oil and gas topics. However, committee hearings and markups of the legislation do not happen.
  • Energy Hearing: Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a hearing on “American Energy Jobs: Opportunities for Education” on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 10:00 AM. Transcripts and video archives will be available here.

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