Hydraulic fracturing and energy policy promise to be an interesting area to watch in 2015 as many competing political forces push to control the agenda. The new Republican Congress was sworn in last week, and has promptly sought changes in energy policy such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and expediting U.S. natural gas exports. On the other hand, the Obama Administration must increase its rulemaking pace to ensure that the President’s top regulatory priorities are finalized (and potentially defended against legal challenges) by the end of his term. Among the federal energy issues that will play out on the national stage are:

  • EPA’s regulation of methane emissions from new oil and gas sector operations, which was just announced and is expected to be proposed in June.
  • EPA may release a notice of proposed rulemaking to establish pretreatment standards under the Clean Water Act for wastewater from onshore unconventional oil and gas drilling;
  • A response by EPA to a petition submitted by a coalition of environmental groups in 2011 to promulgate a rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act to regulate chemicals and mixtures used in fracking techniques;
  • A proposal from EPA on whether to subject oil and gas wells to the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA)’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements. Several groups recently sued EPA for failing to act on their petition for rulemaking under EPCRA;
  • The Department of Interior’s proposed hydraulic fracturing rule, which could be finalized in 2015. The rule may have a disclosure requirement for chemicals used in fracking, and timing requirements for assurances that must be given before permitting can take place;
  • The Keystone XL project: Congress is attempting to sidestep the Executive Branch’s long-delayed review of the project through legislation that President Obama has threatened to veto. The House has already passed a bill;
  • Potential listing of a number of species under the Endangered Species Act, which could constrain energy exploration and development in important oil and gas areas. Chief among these listings is the greater sage grouse, which inhabits an 11-state range, and must be listed by September 2015 pursuant to a settlement with environmental groups;
  • Increased efforts to speed up liquefied natural gas exports through improvements to the Department of Energy (DOE) permitting process;
  • The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)’s proposed rule governing crystalline silica hazards in the workplace. Silica is found in the proppant used in the hydraulic fracturing fluid matrix—OSHA is set to finish reviewing comments in June 2015, and may even issue a final rule this year;
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposed rule on aggregating oil and gas sources for Clean Air Act permitting decisions, slated to be released in May;
  • Debate on the decades-old ban on exports of crude oil, and potentially further refinements on the application of the ban to lease condensates.