Politics

Obama Admin Imposes New Regulations On Fracking

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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The Obama administration has unveiled new regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, imposing stringent requirements for oil and gas drilling in areas already struggling to boost production.

The Department of the Interior’s new rules set standards for cement casings of fracked wells, public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process, more stringent wastewater storage standards and requirements that companies submit geographical information to the government.

“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,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

“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,” Jewell added.

Environmental activists cheered the rules, saying they are necessary to protect U.S. groundwater supplies from being contaminated by fracking fluid. Activists also said restricting fracking would prevent pollution from harming air quality.

“Fracking is a destructive process, threatening our air and water, our wildlife and special places, our families and our climate,” Dan Chu, a director at the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

“Improving safeguards where fracking is already occurring is vital, but equally important is ensuring that more areas are not put at risk,” Chu said. “The fact remains that the safest place for dirty fuels is in the ground.”

Fracking is a well-stimulation process that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into shale formations about a mile below groundwater aquifers. To date, there has been no confirmed case of the fracking process contaminating groundwater, though faulty well casings have been tied to some leaks.

Interior’s fracking rules have Republican lawmakers and the oil and gas industry up in arms. They argue that federal rules for fracking are duplicative as states already do a good job of regulating the process.

“The energy renaissance is largely a story about state and private land, but vast resources remain inaccessible and untapped in federal areas, particularly in the West,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement.

Republicans also criticized the administration for imposing new drilling regulations at a time when oil and gas production on federal lands is falling. The federal government also blocks access to 19 billion barrels of oil and 94.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas through restrictive environmental laws.

“This administration has already taken unprecedented steps to block development in Alaska. Given its anti-development approach, we should expect this rule to make it even harder to produce oil and gas on federal lands,” Murkowski added. “The fact remains: if Interior was half as interested in new production as it is in new regulation, our nation would be in a far better place.”

Fracking, combined with horizontal drilling, has unleashed an American energy boom that has helped to topple high oil prices in recent months. But so far, fracking has been almost exclusively relegated to state and private lands, where it’s putting billions of dollars in government coffers. Private landowners are also seeing royalty checks — a lucky few have even been made millionaires.

In the past six years, U.S. oil production has doubled to more than 9 million barrels per day. Oil companies have been hesitant to start moving fracking operations to federal lands because of long permitting times and restrictive access. The oil industry says these new regulations will just make it even less attractive to drill on federal lands.

“Increased production and use of natural gas has helped cut U.S. carbon emissions to a nearly 20-year low, and this decision only stands in the way of further progress, hampering natural gas development on federal lands onshore, where it has already declined an amazing 21.6 percent since 2009,” Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.

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