The Three Seconds Rule & Fracking

Suppose the NCAA ruled that North Carolina, who are favored to win the national title this year at 6/1 odds, were no longer required to comply with the three seconds in the lane rule? What if every other team was required to adhere to the three seconds rule but the NCAA decided that only the Tar Heels need not comply?

That’s the situation the United States is currently facing in the debate about shale oil and gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing (popularly called fracking). Up until 2005 the oil and gas industry, like other industries in the United States, was required to comply with the federal environmental laws that governed safe drinking water, storm water runoff, hazardous waste disposal and “right to know” laws that dictated disclosure of chemicals to emergency responders amongst others.

In 2005, Congress passed and George W. Bush signed into law what has become known as the Halliburton loophole as part of the Energy Policy Act. The Halliburton loopholp further exempted oil and gas companies engaged in high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) from complying with certain environmental laws that had been on the books for decades— the same health and safety laws that other American industry must still comply. Among these laws was the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.

That’s right. For about thirty years the oil and gas industry was treated like any other American industry. Everybody had to adhere to the rules that kept American drinking water safe. Including energy companies that used HVHF as part of their drilling operations.

And the oil and gas industry prospered during those 30 years even under heavy federal environmental regulation that promised to protect drinking water. New technologies were developed that reduced the numbers of dry wells drilled to almost zero. Old technologies like HVHF were applied in new ways that allowed the industry to open up huge new fields with abundant potential. From 1974 to 2005, energy companies showed consistent profits and energy stock was viewed as a must have in balancing stock portfolios.

It is only AFTER environmental rules for oil and gas were relaxed with enactment of the 2005 Halliburton loophole that the spot price of oil and gas went into free fall.

The root of the word “regulations” is “regular.” The purpose of regulations is to establish regular, predictable rules by which everybody is governed. That includes environmental regulations, which are designed to keep our parks open, our air breathable and our water drinkable.

The energy industry insists that HVHF is safe and important to our economy. So why shouldn’t the industry play by the same rules other industries comply?

Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil, recently said he is “in favor of very clear, very strong regulations” governing shale oil and gas extraction. He said, “From the perspective of a company like us, it protects us because everybody then has to do it the right way.”

The Halliburton loophole should be closed for the same reason the NCAA should not be giving an exemption to the Tar Heels from the three seconds rule. Democracy and fairness dictate that everybody comply with the same rules (whether in basketball or business) so the playing field is level and the players and spectators are all safe.

Closing the Halliburton loophole is good for the environment, good for public health and good for business. Requiring oil and gas companies to comply with environmental health and safety rules ensures that only viable actors participate, keeps prices of oil and natural gas stable and reduces competition from bad actors who foist the cost of environmental degradation onto the public.

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Photo: Tim Evanson Moisture flare at the Obenour 1 and 2 well on the Evanson family farm in McKenzie County, North Dakota

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