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Obama administration proposes new rules for fracking operations

May 20, 2013
KEYWORDS fracking / oil & gas
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The rules would require all fracking operators to disclose some of the chemicals used in the process, in a move to address concerns over the impact of fracking on waterways and air.

The Obama administration has presented a set of draft rules regarding regulation of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands, USA Today reported. The rules would require all fracking operators to disclose some of the chemicals used in the process, in a move to address concerns over the impact of fracking on waterways and air.

The Interior Department proposal will be open to public comments over a period of 30 days, followed by further revision. Environmentalists have been hoping that regulations would force oil and gas companies to fully disclose the chemicals they use in drilling processes and would tighten the standards for groundwater protection and well integrity. Instead, the proposal allows companies to keep certain chemicals they utilize to make up drilling fluids secret. In addition, operators will be required to carry out well integrity tests on a sample well rather than on all wells in a field.

The new draft regulation is a revision of a previous proposal dating from a year ago. It is based on an online database used by Colorado and 10 other states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. The latest version also allows drilling companies to comply with state rules only, when federal officers find them to be as strict or stricter than similar federal rules.

RELATED: California moves closer to fracking ban

According to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the proposed regulation was a "common-sense update" that would contribute to improved safety while at the same time provide flexibility and better coordination with states and with Indian tribes. Millions of acres of public land would still be offered for development of oil and gas operations and it is of critical importance that the public has confidence in what companies are doing and what measures various agencies take to protect people and the environment, she commented. Referring to anticipated criticism from environmental groups, she added that there would certainly be people claiming that fracking was dangerous but banning drilling would "ignore the reality that it has been done for decades" and close opportunities for strengthening the national economy.

Environmentalists are not convinced that the proposal provides the protection that is needed. Jessica Ennis, a spokeswoman for the environmental group Earthjustice, noted that the new draft was weaker than last year's and that regulators are favoring the industry over the environment. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has sided with wealthy businesses and has ignored the best interest of the public, she argued.

Meanwhile, some representatives of the industry were not pleased with the proposal either. Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, commented that the federal rule was not needed because state rules are already in place to make sure drillers take their responsibilities seriously. While the new draft attempts to acknowledge the state role, the Obama administration has yet to explain what is the motivation behind its decision to move forward with these requirements in the first place, he said.

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