WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Friday it will for the first time require companies drilling for oil and natural gas on public and Indian lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.
The proposed “fracking” rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the long-awaited rules will allow continued expansion of drilling while protecting public health and safety.
“As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place,” Salazar said.
The proposed rules will “modernize our management of well-stimulation activities, including hydraulic fracturing, to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices,” he said.
The new rules, which have been under consideration for a year and a half, were softened after industry groups expressed strong concerns about an initial proposal leaked earlier this year. The proposal would allow companies to file disclosure reports after drilling operations are completed, rather than before they begin, as initially proposed. Industry groups said the earlier proposal could have caused lengthy delays.
In fracking, drillers force millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into the formations to make cracks in the shale to release natural gas and oil.
Some environmental groups criticized the change as a cave-in to industry, but Salazar said the rules were never intended to cause delays, but to ensure that the public is “fully aware of the chemicals that are being injected into the underground” by companies seeking to produce oil and natural gas.
The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees drilling on public lands, estimates that 90 percent of the approximately 3,400 wells currently drilled on federal and Indian lands using hydraulic fracturing techniques.
The rules would not affect drilling on private land, where the bulk of shale exploration is taking place. A nationwide drilling boom in formations such as the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian region and the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana, as well as in traditional production states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, has led to 10-year lows in natural gas prices.
Still, Salazar said he hopes the new rules could be used as a model for state regulators.
“We hope our leadership is followed,” he said at a news conference.
Industry groups and many Republicans contend that current state regulations are sufficient.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, argued that the draft regulations are the continuation of Obama’s “assault on American energy.”
“The Obama administration is trampling on the rights of states who have been effectively regulating natural gas development for decades, and this new federal rule is just another example of this administration attempting to ‘crucify’ domestic oil and gas producers and shut down one of the few areas of our economy that is expanding,” Scalise said in a prepared statement.
Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said he hasn’t gone through the regulations.
However, exploration and production companies in Louisiana already report all the chemicals used under the FracFocus.org program, Briggs said.
The hydraulic fracturing chemical registry website is a project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
“The federal regulations are probably not even as tight as the ones we have in the state,” Briggs said.
The newly released federal regulations will probably have little impact on Louisiana’s exploration and production companies, he said. Louisiana’s regulations are very good, and LOGA continues to support state regulation of fracking.
The industry also has complained that disclosure of chemicals used in fracking could violate trade secrets, although Salazar said the rule would include exemptions for specific formulas. Some of the chemicals used in fracking include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, all of which can cause health problems in significant doses.
Critics say fracking chemicals have polluted water supplies, but supporters say there is no proof.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly and Advocate writers Ted Griggs and Jordan Blum contributed to this report.