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, also told attendees at the Natural Gas Roundtable on Thursday that the administration may revise the national inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) to be more favorable toward the industry.
"We are very much focused on taking the time to get these [BLM] rules right," Zichal said. "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.
"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 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 Daily GPI, 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 Daily GPI, 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.
"It is of great concern that BLM provides no supporting scientific data on hydraulic fracturing, well stimulation incidents or problems that justify new overarching regulation. Without these findings, new regulations cannot be justified."
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 criticized the EPA's findings announced in April (see Daily GPI, April 21).
"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."
Zichal said the EPA is the target of a lawsuit by more than 100 environmental groups, and said many environmentalists believe an online registry -- fracfocus.org -- is an insufficient tool to provide information to the public.
"EPA at some point in time will have to reply to that petition," Zichal said. "There will be a conversation about what we want from the industry in terms of additional information. But as we do that, it's going to be through the lens of what the industry is already providing, so we're not creating additional regulatory burdens."
Zichal added that the administration believes fracfocus "is an important tool that provides transparency to the American people. We believe that having that existing platform is incredibly important."
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