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U.S. sets new rules for fracking on federal lands
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U.S. sets new rules for fracking on federal lands

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U.S. sets new rules for fracking on federal lands

(Reuters) - The Obama administration unveiled long-awaited rules on Friday to bolster oversight of "fracking" on public lands, seeking to allay environmental concerns over the technology that has spurred a boom in shale gas drilling in the United States.

The Interior Department proposal would require companies to obtain government approval to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in drilling for natural gas on federal lands.

The rules would not affect drilling on private land, where the bulk of shale exploration is taking place. Still, the administration has said it hopes the rules could be used as a template for state regulators.

"Most shale plays are out of the reach of Interior," said Whitney Stanco, an analyst with the Guggenheim Washington Research Group.

A Guggenheim analysis found that only about 5 percent of shale wells drilling in the United States in the past decade occurred on federal lands.

The proposal would also require that companies disclose the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing after completing the process, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals under the ground to extract fuel.

"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," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

The administration has walked a fine line on natural gas drilling, lauding the potential of the country's vast shale gas reserves, while stressing the need to ensure drilling is safe.

Critics say shale gas drilling, and fracking in particular, have fouled water sources and polluted the environment. Green groups and some lawmakers have called for more federal regulation of fracking, which is mostly handled at state level.

Shale gas drillers argue that oversight of the drilling boom is most effectively managed by states and say excessive regulation could staunch production that is creating jobs and helping U.S. energy security.

"The bigger priority for us is to make sure we aren't overlaying a process here that is going to harm the ability of states to continue their regulation of our production," said Marty Durbin of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry group.


Interior's proposal on disclosure differs from a draft of the rules that leaked to the media earlier this year, by mandating disclosure after fracking is completed.

"Requiring the information before the fracking occurred would have caused in our view delays that were not necessary," Salazar said on a conference call.

"We are with this proposal still maintaining our focus on the objective, and the objective here is to make sure that the American public is fully aware of the chemicals that are being injected into the underground," he added.

Some environmentalists raised concern about this measure, however, saying communities need to know what chemicals may be pumped into the ground before drilling happens, so water supplies can be monitored in real time.

"Unfortunately, these proposed rules from the Department of the Interior fall far short of what's needed to protect public health," said Jessica Ennis of Earthjustice.

U.S. sets new rules for fracking on federal lands | Reuters

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