An agency of the Department of Transportation (DOT) is walking back an onerous rule change that would have primarily affected trucks at fracking sites after GOP congressmen and industry officials have cried foul.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) in June re-interpreted a 50-year-old rule limiting the amount of time trucks delivering water and sand to drilling sites can stay on-site.
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The change drew immediate criticism when it was discovered and prompted Rep. Jeff Landry (R., Louis.) to join 63 other congressmen in penning a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood demanding it be rescinded.
"We have received the letter, and U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood will provide an official written response," a Transportation Department spokesperson said.
"I got a call from a number of service companies that said, ‘Jeff’ we believe that they’re prejudicing the fracking industry,’" Landry said in an interview with the Free Beacon. "And we recognized that this was clearly an attempt by this administration to again put up roadblocks that curtail our oil and gas exploration domestically."
The new interpretation of the rule would remove a "waiting time exemption" for trucks at drilling-sites, making any time they spend on-site count toward their 11-hour work limit. Because oil and gas drilling sites are often located in remote areas, sometimes without paved roads, and because of the unpredictable nature of the work, it is often necessary for trucks to say on-site for more than 11 hours.
A Hill aide told the Free Beacon that the rule, buried in the Federal Register, went into effect immediately.
"Most motor carriers didn’t know about it until they were pulled over," the aide said.
Landry, himself a former small business owner in the oil and gas industry, called the regulations "absolutely ridiculous." He said the change would cause regulatory headaches and "make a mess" of truck drivers’ log books.
"This is what happens when someone is looking for ways to curtail our domestic production and when they don’t understand the industry," Landry said.
The Association of Energy Service Companies, the trade association for trucks that service oil and gas drilling sites, criticized the FMCSA for not inviting it to participate in the decision-making process, as it usually is.
"It is the industry’s belief that FMCSA bypassed normal channels in the rulemaking process in neglecting to post a rule notice, not allowing for true stakeholder comments, and making no effort to hold public hearings regarding the changes in the Hours of Service guidance," said Kenny Jordan, the executive director of the Association of Energy Service Companies.
"Although the FMCSA is now allowing public listening sessions, this development occurred only after pressure from various associations and companies."
In response to criticism, the FMCSA has extended the public comment period for the rule change.
The aide told the Free Beacon he believed the rule change came from high up in the Obama administration as a way to curtail fracking.
"This got pushed on [the FMCSA] from someone higher up, and they didn’t know they were going to catch hell on it," the aide said.
The FMCSA did not respond to requests for comment.