Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Shale Law in the Spotlight – Oregon and Washington Enact Hydraulic Fracturing Bans

Written by Chloe Marie – Research Specialist

This article will provide an overview of recent legislative developments that have taken place in the states of Oregon and Washington to prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing for any future oil and gas development projects. According to the most recent production report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Oregon had 659 MMCF of natural gas production in 2017. With this production level, Oregon ranked 28th out of 34 natural gas-producing states. According to the EIA report, Washington did not have any natural gas production in 2017. Additionally, neither Oregon nor Washington are listed as producing any oil during February 2019, which is the latest data available on the EIA website.  

Washington and Oregon join the states of New York, Maryland, and Vermont which have previously adopted statewide bans on hydraulic fracturing drilling activities. In May 2012, Vermont became the first state to permanently ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing for the drilling of unconventional wells. The states of New York and Maryland subsequently acted to prohibit such activities in June 2015 and April 2017, respectively, due to stated concerns over the potential impacts of such technique on the environment and public health.

Washington state

On May 8, 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill No. 5145, a very brief bill imposing a permanent ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing in the exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the state of Washington. The new legislation clarifies that it “does not prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing for other purposes.” The definition of hydraulic fracturing in the bill, however, is limited to actions taken “for the purpose of production or recovery of oil or natural gas.” The ban on hydraulic fracturing is set to become effective on July 28, 2019.

Upon signing the bill, Governor Inslee issued a Press Release welcoming the ban and stressing the urgency and the importance of taking action now against climate change and preventing the environmental impact specific to the development of natural gas. In this regard, Governor Inslee declared that “[t]he accelerating threat of climate change and the emerging science on the damaging impacts of natural gas production and distribution mean we must focus our full efforts on developing clean, renewable and fossil-fuel free energy sources. Being committed now to 100 percent clean electricity and signing a bill prohibiting fracking in Washington state, we want to be consistent to that spirit of progress.” Approximately one month earlier, on May 7, 2019, Governor Inslee had signed into law Senate Bill 5116 establishing and supporting a 100 percent clean electricity standard in the state of Washington.


Following Washington in close temporal proximity, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed House Bill No. 2623 on June 10, 2019, to implement a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing in the exploration for, or in the production of, oil and natural gas in Oregon. HB 2623 passed the Oregon House of Representatives on March 18 and included a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state for a total of 10 years. During its consideration of the bill, however, the Senate made amendments to the House proposal, shortening the period of the moratorium from 10 to 5 years. The House accepted those amendments and repassed the bill on June 5, 2019. The House Speaker and the President of the Senate each signed the bill on June 7 and 10, respectively.

The bill provides an exemption from the ban for the drilling of natural gas storage wells, geothermal wells, activities related to exploration for geothermal energy, and coal bed methane extraction wells in existence as of the effective date of the legislation. The State Legislative Assembly passed this bill as “being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety” and declared it to be an emergency measure. According to Oregon Senator James Manning, “[t]his bill will put a stop to a dangerous and environmentally damaging practice in Oregon … [w]e don’t want oil and gas companies to come in and start wasting our water and damaging our environment to make a buck. It dirties our water and pollutes our planet,” as reported by Kallanish Energy in a media article released on June 5, 2019.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed the legislation on June 17, 2019. The temporary ban is set to expire on January 2, 2025.




Additional Resources:

This material is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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