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Editorial: States are the best fracking watchdogs

The Detroit News
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The rules issued last week by the Obama administration regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal lands should serve as fair warning to those states like Michigan that have already enacted adequate standards to regulate the extraction of oil and natural gas.

Department of the Interior regulations will mainly standardize wastewater disposal and require companies to disclose what chemicals they're using to help blast oil and natural gas from rock formations.

Michigan and most other states already have their own standards to ensure energy, oil and gas companies use the technology safely and with as little effect on the environment as possible.

And since just 11 percent of the natural gas and 5 percent of the oil consumed by the U.S. comes from drilling on federal lands, the states already regulate most fracking in the country.

But new rules show clearly why governing fracking should remain with the states.

The federal rules are stricter than Michigan law, adding another layer of costs and leaving open the door to a cap on methane emissions, which threaten to stop fracking in its tracks.

An administration that's been more concerned with controlling the economy than in growing it should not be given oversight of exploration on state and private land.

States leading the domestic energy boom in the U.S., such as Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania, regulate the technology. Extreme cases, like New York, ban it altogether.

And in Colorado, where fracking has come under more community opposition, state and industry leaders worked together to develop standards that satisfy both sides and give communities flexibility over land use.

That's the right approach to regulating an industry that's succeeded across so many varying geographic compositions.

In Michigan, there remain no instances of adverse environmental impacts from the more than 12,000 wells that have been fractured for more than 60 years, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

"Michigan has a tremendous track record," said Gov. Rick Snyder regarding fracking in his recent address on energy. "It's a poster child for how it could be done appropriately."

Even with such regulations in place, the governor's office requested an assessment from the University of Michigan's Graham Sustainability Institute on the effectiveness of the state's fracking rules.

While the draft report doesn't issue direct recommendations, it raises questions about how the industry discloses information about its chemicals, waste removal, and community input and notice periods.

Snyder has promised to work with the institute and all stakeholders to further improve Michigan's already solid regulations.

With the state relying more heavily on natural gas rather than coal in the coming years, it's likely the use of fracking will increase.

Control over the location and use of this technology should be up to Michigan and its localities, not the federal government.

Rochester Hills is voting to possibly adopt local ordinances to regulate drilling in its community this week, and other Michigan cities over the past year have debated their own ordinances.

Michigan's pragmatic and proactive approach in comparison to the tightening federal rules governing this vital industry illustrates why local control is the most effective way to handle fracking.

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