Obama administration tightens federal rules on oil and gas fracking – the washington post gas out


The Obama administration imposed tougher restrictions Friday on oil and gas “fracking” operations on public lands, seeking to lower the risk of water contamination from a controversial practice that is chiefly behind the recent boom in U.S. energy production.

The regulations represent the administration’s most significant effort to tighten standards for hydraulic fracturing, a technique that helped make the United States the world’s No. 1 producer of natural gas while igniting a fierce debate over environmental consequences.

The Interior Department rules apply only to oil and gas drilling on federal lands, or about a quarter of the country’s current fossil-fuel output. But the prospect of new regulations has drawn sharp opposition from industry groups who say the new requirements will drive up production costs everywhere.

Fracking, as it is commonly known, involves injecting liquids into underground rock formations at high pressure to extract oil and gas that would be all but inaccessible using conventional methods. In the decade since the technology became widely available, the practice has revolutionized the country’s natural-gas industry while also raising fears about groundwater pollution and even a heightened risk of earthquakes.

The rules announced on Friday are intended chiefly to minimize the threat of water contamination from fracking. Companies that drill on public lands would be subject to stricter design standards for wells and also for holding tanks and ponds where liquid wastes are stored.

Interior officials also introduced new transparency measures that require firms to publicly disclose the types of the chemical additives they use. The liquid injected into fracking wells consists mainly of water and sand, with small amounts of other substances that can range from coffee grinds to acids and salts.

“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old, and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” said Jewell, who started her career as an engineer working on oil rigs in Oklahoma. With millions of acres of federal land open to oil and gas exploration, “it is absolutely critical the public have confidence that transparent and effective safety and environmental protections are in place,” she said.

Two industry groups immediately filed suit to block the measures. The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance called the rules a “reaction to unsubstantiated concerns,” and warned that the U.S. natural gas boom could fizzle.

“The oil and natural gas industry has played a critical role in reviving America’s economy and hydraulic fracturing has been the key to this revival,” Barry Russell, the IPAA president, said in a statement. Imposing new costs on energy companies at a time of plummeting oil and gas prices is the “complete opposite of common-sense,” he said.

Among environmentalists, the reaction was mixed. Madeleine Foote, legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters, called the regulations “an important step forward in regulating fracking,” but said environmental groups were disappointed that the requirements were not tougher.