U.S. sets first major fracking rules on federal lands

Fri Mar 20, 2015 5:59pm EDT
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By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration's new rules governing fracking on federal lands drew swift criticism from all sides on Friday, with green groups calling the measures "toothless" and the energy industry slamming "unnecessary" regulation of a drilling process that has brought the United States to the cusp of oil and gas self-sufficiency.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial technique that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a well to extract oil or gas. The new federal rules include beefed-up measures to protect ground water, one of the main health and safety concerns arising from the drilling process.

Within minutes of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal being released, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Wyoming on grounds that the rulemaking was based on "unsubstantiated concerns" over safety.

The rules also require energy companies to reinforce boreholes to prevent water leakage, and to reveal chemical ingredients that are injected into the ground under high pressure to extract crude oil and gas.

Although only about 10 percent of fracking occurs on federal lands, the Obama administration is hoping its new rules can become a model for industry across the country. Drilling has been operating under state by state regulations, ranging from relatively strict operating rules in California to no rules in other states.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the standards were a long-overdue update to U.S. rules for drilling on federal lands, outmoded since the widespread emergence of horizontal drilling in the past 10 years. She said they were "good for the public and good for industry."

The administration has characterized the BLM action as a step toward balancing public health and safety concerns with regulatory certainty that should allow energy companies to proceed with responsible production.

Industry groups and Republicans warned the rules would slow down the U.S. "energy renaissance."   Continued...

Mody Torres (L) and Josh Anderson of Select Energy Services connect hoses between a pipeline and water tanks at a Hess fracking site near Williston, North Dakota November 12, 2014.REUTERS/Andrew Cullen