Criticism Follows Federal Rules on Fracking Environmental, Industry Groups Upset

By Ritenbaugh, Stephanie | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Criticism Follows Federal Rules on Fracking Environmental, Industry Groups Upset


Ritenbaugh, Stephanie, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The Obama administration on Friday released the first major regulations on hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique that has allowed the United States to rival the Middle East and Russia in oil and gas production but also has stirred controversy over its environmental and health impact.

The rules - four years in the making - almost immediately were greeted with a lawsuit filed by industry trade groups and with criticism from environmental advocates saying the government standards weren't tough enough. The battle at the federal level echoes those already playing out in states such as Pennsylvania where fracking has been used for years.

The long-awaited regulations released by the Department of the Interior deal only with wells drilled on public and tribal lands. The rules set to go into effect in June deal with well construction standards and require companies to submit detailed information on any pre-existing wells nearby that could cause a well blowout or spill.

Drillers also will be required to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process, putting the information on the website FracFocus within 30 days of completing fracturing operations, with provisions for trade secrets.

A provision to require companies to use tanks, rather than lined, in-ground pits to hold wastewater, is similar to a move already included in a proposal by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection this month to ban temporary waste pits at Marcellus and Utica shale gas well sites.

"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 Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

"As we continue to offer millions of acres of public lands for conventional and renewable energy production, it is absolutely critical the public have confidence that transparent and effective safety and environmental protections are in place."

About 36 million acres of federal land are under lease for potential oil and gas development in 33 states, mostly west of the Mississippi River. As of June 30, there were about 47,000 active oil and gas leases on public lands, and 95,000 oil and gas wells.

Since 2008, oil and gas production has jumped 81 percent on such lands, Ms. Jewell said in a conference call Friday.

Muted impact

In Pennsylvania, the direct impact of the new rules will be muted. Allegheny National Forest, about 150 miles north of Pittsburgh, falls under federal jurisdiction, but 93 percent of it - about 487,000 acres - is privately owned and therefore falls under existing state regulations, according to Jim Seyler, operations officer for the national forest.

The checkerboard ownership is a remnant of how mineral rights were sold during the 1920s, when the forest was established.

The remaining 7 percent falls under federal management, but the acreage that would come under the new regulations continues to shrink upon closer look. …

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