Washington • The Obama administration proposed updated rules for oil and gas development on federal lands an effort to catch up with the boom in use of the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing but struck a compromise that failed to satisfy industry and most environmentalists.
Both sides focused on the contentious issue of disclosure of compounds that companies use during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which entails injecting millions of gallons of water and sand laced with chemicals into rock formations to unlock oil and gas deposits.
The proposed rules would require companies for the first time to disclose the chemicals they use within 30 days of "fracking" a well on federal land.
Earlier versions of the proposal that the Interior Department discussed with industry and environmentalists were tougher. They would have required companies to disclose to regulators the chemicals they planned to use before fracking a well. Three states Arkansas, Montana and Wyoming already require such a step before wells are developed, according to regulatory information compiled by ProPublica.
Some environmental groups lashed out at Interior's proposal. Jessica Ennis, legislative representative for Earthjustice, said it fell "far short of what's needed to protect public health."
She added that oil and gas companies should be required to disclose the chemicals before using them "so communities can test drinking water before fracking occurs and monitor the safety of water supplies in real time."
Industry and its allies in Congress also criticized the proposed rules, saying they would be an additional burden for oil and gas operators, which already face varying regulations imposed by different states. Operators are required to obtain state permits to produce oil and gas on federal lands, said the Western Energy Alliance, an industry group based in Denver.
The alliance and other industry voices assert that regulation of fracking should be left to state regulators, rather than having the federal government impose a "one size fits all" regime.
"Western energy producers already face excessive bureaucratic hurdles when developing American energy on public lands," said Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance's vice president of government and public affairs. "Since nearly every well drilled in the West requires the use of fracking, these unnecessary new rules will only discourage the production of American energy."
Only a small percentage of wells that are fracked sit on federal lands; most are on private property. But the rules are meant to introduce some uniformity to fracking practices and provide a guideline to states that have begun regulating the technique.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar defended the disclosure decision, saying that revealing the chemicals beforehand "would have caused delays that are not necessary." Salazar said the updated rules, which will be finalized by the end of the year, protect the public while ensuring robust growth in domestic oil and gas development.
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Utah delegation is against new rules
Utah's members of Congress oppose new federal rules requiring the disclosure of chemicals used by oil and gas companies that use hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands.
The state's two senators and three House members allege the "fracking" rules are a burdensome step in a process they say states already handle well.
"Utahns are fully capable of managing ourselves," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "We don't need to be watched over by bureaucrats in Washington."
Rep. Jim Matheson, the lone Democrat in the state's delegation, represents much of Utah's prime energy-producing lands and echoed that sentiment.
"States already have the tools necessary to regulate hydraulic fracturing and they have effectively used those tools for decades," Matheson said. "This decision to move forward adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to a regulatory process that already works."
- Matt Canham