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Comment Period for BLM Fracking Rule to Be Extended

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

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told attendees at the American Gas Association's Natural Gas Roundtable on Thursday that the administration is "very much focused on taking the time to get these rules right.

"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's Shale Daily 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.

"To ensure that the public and key stakeholders, including industry and public health groups, are able to provide important feedback that will help inform any final rule, Interior has decided to extend the public comment period for our commonsense draft rule, which supports the continued development of America's abundant oil and gas resources on federal and Indian lands by taking steps to ensure public confidence in well stimulation techniques and technologies, including hydraulic fracturing," Fetcher said Friday.

In February BLM proposed requiring companies that drill on public and Native American lands to disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations, including their formulation (see Shale Daily, 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 Shale Daily, May 7).

"The BLM proposal is out there," Zichal said, adding that an official announcement on the extended comment period would possibly be made "at some point this week, again mostly in response to concerns that we've heard from industry about the need for an extension of the comment period. We will be extending that comment period."

The industry contends additional regulatory oversight by BLM is unnecessary and wasteful. The Western Energy Alliance said BLM's plans would cost taxpayers between $1.499 and $1.615 billion annually (see Shale Daily, June 14).

Just this week, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead appealed to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for more time to review the proposed BLM rules. In a letter to the Obama administration cabinet member, Mead asked for an extension of the comment period on the draft BLM rules (see related story).

Zichal said the administration was also keen on seeing fracking embraced by the public as a safe technology. She said that when she meets with environmental and public health groups, they raise concerns about fracking.

"They raise very legitimate concerns about protecting underground water resources, reducing air pollution and minimizing surface impacts like truck traffic and road damage," Zichal said. "Those are all important and necessary issues to consider. We all realize that hydraulic fracturing is not a zero-risk proposition if it's not done right. At the same time, we know that it can be done safely and responsibly.

"There are many companies that are leading into this challenge in promoting best practices for safer and more efficient production. That's not always widely noticed or appreciated, but it's a fact. With the new technology and know-how that we have, the only thing that could undermine our ability to take advantage of our natural gas resources would be a failure to demonstrate to the public that we can do it safely. We need to work harder to make that case. And as we go about doing that we should be able to set aside the battles of the past and work together in a concerted way."

Zichal -- who served as energy policy director for President Obama during his first presidential campaign and previously advised John Kerry on energy issues during his 2004 campaign -- said she is also routinely asked about the Obama administration's focus during the re-election bid.

"There is some speculation about whether the administration is truly committed to an 'all of the above' energy approach and whether we are going to continue focusing on oil and gas development and working with the industry in a collaborative way in the future," Zichal said. "To all of those questions, the resounding answer is 'yes.' Whether it's for the next four months or the next four years, the president truly understands the opportunity we have with natural gas to create new jobs for Americans, reduce pollution and power our economy for years to come."

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