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Marten Law: Energy Policy in the Second Obama Administration


By Adam D. Orford, Dustin Till, and Daniel Timmons, Attorneys, Marten Law PLLC

Excerpt from the Commentary:

The current boom in oil and gas production will be one of the forces driving President Obama's energy policy in his second administration. In this article, three attorneys from Marten Law PLLC discuss the expectation of more federal regulation of oil & gas production, new infrastructure and facilities proposals, and the tension between reducing GHG emissions and increasing oil and gas production to promote economic growth and energy independence.

President Obama has described his administration's energy policy as "all of the above." His opponents have called it "picking winners and losers." In practice, it has been driven by two significant changes in the nation's energy landscape: a boom in private domestic oil and natural gas production, and concerted federal promotion of renewable energy development. A future article will address renewable energy issues. This article focuses on oil and gas production. As discussed below, the second Obama administration will redefine how oil and gas drilling practices are regulated under federal environmental laws; abundant oil and gas production will lead to new infrastructure and facilities proposals as industry seeks new markets; and throughout it all, the nation will continue to grapple with the tension between reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increasing oil and gas production to promote economic growth and energy independence.

The United States is currently experiencing a boom in domestic oil and gas production. Technical advances in deep horizontal drilling combined with existing hydraulic fracturing technologies have opened up "unconventional" oil and gas deposits to economic development. With these advancements have come calls to increase federal regulatory control over the oil and gas industry-activities that are currently regulated primarily by the states. Today's debate over "fracking" is, in many respects, a debate over the proper balance between state and federal regulation over the oil and gas industry.

President Obama has enjoyed the political benefits that increased energy independence, low energy prices, and domestic industrial expansion bring. But his administration has also had to deal with a rising insurgency from within the party ranks, as environmental interests have demanded greater federal regulation of the oil and gas industry. In large part, the Obama administration has handled the rising tensions by conducting studies and proposing, but generally not finalizing, new federal regulations. Now that the election is over, however, it appears likely that the administration will move forward on some or all of its proposed initiatives for stricter federal regulation of oil and gas drilling.

Adam D. Orford is an associate with Marten Law PLLC. He is an advocate and counselor with experience in redevelopment and closure of contaminated sites, management of hazardous substances, acquisition, challenge and defense of state and federal air, water and waste permits, impact review of real estate development, transportation and energy infrastructure, environmental diligence in corporate acquisitions, corporate environmental disclosure, municipal planning and land use. Adam earned his J.D. from Columbia University School of Law, where he was a Stone Scholar, and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law.

As a lawyer with the Marten Law Group, Dustin Till practices environmental and land use litigation with a special focus on climate change issues, permitting, and environmental review in the Pacific Northwest. Dustin represents clients in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska on a broad range of environmental matters, including permitting and energy infrastructure siting. Dustin shares his climate change expertise on behalf of Marten Law Group writing ongoing articles for Lexis Nexis' Environmental Law and Climate Change Center. Dustin has appeared before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, federal district court and the Washington State Court of Appeals.

Daniel Timmons is an associate with Marten Law PLLC in Portland, Oregon. His practice focuses on environmental permitting and compliance, energy, and natural resources litigation. He brings a strong scientific background to his legal work, and has particular experience with water resources allocation and water quality issues.

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