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Administration Extending Comment Period for BLM's Fracking Rules

At the request of the oil and natural gas industry, the Obama administration will extend by two months the public comment period on proposed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rules governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Heather Zichal, the deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, also said last week exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) "makes sense," and indicated that a revision to the national inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be undertaken that may be more favorable toward the industry.

"We are very much focused on taking the time to get these [BLM] rules right," Zichal told attendees last Thursday at the Natural Gas Roundtable. "We know that there are some pretty significant things within that proposal that need to be fixed and addressed. We're going to be doing that."

Adam Fetcher, press secretary for the Department of Interior, which oversees BLM, told NGI on Friday that a notice to extend the public comment period another 60 days would be "published in the coming days" in the Federal Register. The deadline is currently July 10.

In February the BLM proposed requiring companies that drill on public and Native American lands to disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations, including their formulation (see NGI, Feb. 6). But last month the agency backtracked slightly, saying the companies would only have to disclose the information after operations have been completed (see NGI, May 7).

Zichal said the extension was being granted "mostly in response to concerns that we're heard from industry about the need for an extension of the comment period."

Industry groups applauded the extension. "The manufacturing sector has directly benefited from greater use of hydraulic fracturing and low natural gas prices," said Industrial Energy Consumers of America President Paul Cicio. "The proposed BLM regulation of hydraulic fracturing raises significant concerns that drilling permitting will slow and that production rates will fall."

Last April DOE approved the first application for LNG exports to countries that are not parties to a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States (see NGI, April 16). DOE has since put the non-FTA permitting process on hold while it assesses the impact of LNG exports on domestic gas markets (see related story).

Zichal said the impact study would be completed this summer "and will pave the way for future decisions [on LNG exports] from the administration. I think some amount of LNG exports certainly makes sense from our perspective, and I think you will see policies to follow that." She later clarified that she didn't know which of the six to eight LNG export applications pending before DOE would be approved, but she believes some of them will be granted.

"I can't prejudge what the [DOE] is going to find that they can say 'yes' and 'no' to," Zichal said. "I can only suspect that some of them would be approved. As a general rule of principle, the administration is not opposed to LNG exports. We believe that there is an important role that LNG exports can play in terms of domestic job creation and what we can achieve globally for energy security and environmental benefits."

Zichal indicated the next version of the U.S. GHG Inventory, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to release in January, would better reflect the industry's efforts to capture methane and reduce or eliminate flaring. The industry says the EPA has overestimated GHG emissions from shale gas operations (see NGI, Aug. 29, 2011).

"We've put together a working group with the EPA and the Office of Science & Technology," Zichal said."From our perspective, the infield operations and the broad picture for natural gas are changing so quickly, many times in the agencies the science is rushing to catch up. We have heard you on your concerns. We have put some of our brightest and best minds together and we are going to be looking at this."

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