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Federal Agencies’ 2014 ‘to do’ List Includes Finalizing Rules on Drilling, Fracking

In a report released Tuesday on the Obama administration's regulatory priorities for the upcoming year, the Interior Department signaled its plans to get tougher in its oversight of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and complete its rulemaking on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public lands.

The department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) will "regulate, enforce and respond to OCS development using the full range of authorities, policies and tools to compel safety and environmental responsibility and appropriate development of offshore oil and natural gas resources," the report said.

A proposed rule BSEE is developing for the offshore, which includes requirements on blowout preventers and critical reforms in the areas of well design, well control, casing, cementing, real-time monitoring and subsea containment, is expected to be issued in March 2014.

Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the BSEE are working on a joint proposed rule to promote "safe, responsible and effective drilling activities" on the Alaska OCS, according to the White House report. "And in a continuing effort to minimize the risk that oil spills will occur and that the effects of any future potential spills can be minimized and full mitigated, BOEM [said it] is raising the limits of liability associated with future spills up to the statutory maximum."

Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue said it plans to simplify regulations for establishing the value for royalties for oil and natural gas produced from federal leases.

Onshore, the report said revising "antiquated" fracking regulations is one of its top priorities, as well as new draft rules to regulate venting and flaring on federal and Indian lands, and the valuation of royalties for oil shale development.

Interior's existing regulations on fracking "were promulgated over 20 years ago and do not reflect modern technology. In seeking to modernize its requirements and ensure the protection of our nation's public lands, BLM [Bureau of Land Management] has proposed a rule that would disclose to the public chemicals used in fracturing on public land and Indian land, strengthen regulations related to well-bore integrity, [and] address issues related to flowback water," said the White House's 2013 unified regulatory agenda and regulatory plan (see Shale Daily,May 20). BLM is expected to finalize its rule governing fracking on federal lands in May 2014.

BLM also plans to propose a rule that would prevent waste by "minimizing the amount of venting and flaring that takes place on oil and gas production facilities on federal and Indian lands," and it hopes to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that would ensure a fair return to the American taxpayer for oil shale development.

"The rule would encourage responsible development of federal oil shale resources and evaluate necessary safeguards to protect scarce water resources and important wildlife habitat while assuring a fair royalty to the American people," the report noted.

According to the White House regulatory report, the Environmental  Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to focus its attention on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for power plants. "In 2014, EPA intends to propose standards of performance for [GHG] emissions from existing and modified power plant sources," it noted.

"The agenda and plan includes 'active rulemakings' that have at least some possibility of issuance over the next year, but, as in previous years, this list may include rules that are not issued in the coming year," the White House said.

In the upcoming year, the agency reportedly has signaled that it will involve the states more in carrying out enforcement responsibilities.

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