White House Issues New Hydraulic Fracturing Rule

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Friday issued a proposed rule governing hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands that will for the first time require disclosure of the chemicals used in the process.

But in a significant concession to the oil industry, companies will have to reveal the composition of fluids only after they have completed drilling, not before -- a sharp change from the government's original proposal, which would have required disclosure of the chemicals 30 days before a well could be started.

The walk-back of the rule followed a series of meetings at the White House after the original regulation was proposed in February. Lobbyists representing oil industry trade associations and individual major producers such as Exxon Mobil, XTO Energy, Apache, Samson Resources and Anadarko Petroleum met with Office of Management and Budget officials, who reworked the rule to address industry concerns about overlapping state regulations and the cost of compliance.

Production of domestic oil and natural gas has surged in recent years as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have opened new fields and allowed renewed production from formations that had seemed depleted.

President Barack Obama has strongly endorsed the new production as a boon to the economy and energy security. And the president, under criticism of his energy policies from Republicans and oil industry officials as he faces re-election, has recently taken steps to ease government regulation of oil operations.

In its original proposal that oil companies disclose the chemicals they intended to use in drilling at least 30 days before starting a well, the Interior Department was seeking to address the concerns of landowners and communities about potential pollution of groundwater. But industry objected, saying the additional paperwork would slow the permitting process and potentially jeopardize trade secrets.

The government then agreed to allow companies to reveal the contents of drilling fluids after the fracking operation has been completed. Interior Department officials said having a record would allow scientists to trace any future contamination, and that it did not matter whether the fluids were disclosed before or after drilling.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the proposed rule was part of the administration's overall energy strategy. "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," he said. …