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Interior Chief Doesn't See 'One-Size-Fits-All' Fracking Rule

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who is in her second week on the job, signaled Monday that new rules governing federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are imminent.

In a web chat commemorating Earth Day, she said the rules would be released "fairly soon." Jewell, who began her career with ExxonMobil Corp. predecessor Mobil, said she has performed the fracking procedures "very safely on wells that I worked on in Oklahoma." She acknowledged that she may be the first secretary of Interior to ever frack a well.

"The thing that's clear to me from my own experience [is that] one size doesn't fit all" when it comes to fracking, she said.

If a producer is fracking a well in a formation that is "well away from groundwater, thousands of feet away, as long as you have good wellbore integrity, the risk should be low," she said. However, "if you are doing a procedure that is close to groundwater," then the risk would be greater, according to Jewell, who pointed out that fracking has been around for decades.

The department is working on a "set of rules" that will provide predictability to industry and environmental protections necessary for local communities.

The revised draft rule is expected to contain the three main components of the initial fracking proposal: requiring operators to disclose the chemicals they use in fracturing activities on public lands; improving assurances on wellbore integrity to verify that fluids used in wells during fracturing operations are not escaping; and confirming that oil and gas operators have a water management plan in place for handling fracturing fluids that flow back to the surface (see Shale Daily, Jan. 23).

The initial rule drew considerable criticism because of the anticipated costs of compliance and because many view it as duplicative of rules already in place at the state level.

Oil and gas companies and the the states, which currently regulate fracking, generally oppose federal regulation of the activity, while environmentalists support it, saying that fracking is a threat to water and air quality (see Shale Daily, Sept. 12, 2012).

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