This article examines the regulation of fracking which has transformed the United States’ energy outlook, from a comparative perspective.
In the U.S. there is a considerable amount of substantive activity over the regulation of fracking at the federal level. But since the hydraulic fracturing process itself is exempt from federal regulation, fracking continues to be primarily a matter of state and local law. There currently exists a patchwork of state regulations, with each state enacting various requirements for wastewater disposal, underground injection, storm water runoff, water supply acquisition, and the process for spacing, drilling, casing, and operating wells. But while most states in which fracking occurs have comprehensive oil and gas regulation statutes, few of these actually regulate fracking. Therefore, much of the effective regulation comes from local government through existing zoning and other land use ordinances. The European Union (EU) is expected to release a unified policy on fracking to manage a multiplicity of sometimes-conflicting laws and permitting requirements throughout EU countries. With the unified EU policy still in the early stages of development, several EU countries have adopted their own approaches in the interim.
The U.S. experience in regulating hydraulic fracturing represents a useful, if cautionary, paradigm for other countries also struggling with the issue of how to regulate the industry.