The Interior Department is “very close” to releasing rules governing the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and natural gas wells located on public lands, Secretary Sally Jewell said last Tuesday in her first appearance before Congress. A New Jersey congressman, who said he saw a leaked copy, indicated last week that the draft rules appeared to be a water-downed version of the rules proposed last year.

It’s a matter of “weeks, not months,” until the rules will be released, Jewell told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. She appeared before the panel to defend the department’s $10.9 billion budget request for fiscal 2014.

“We need your help in streamlining [the] regulatory burden,” said Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, which is home to the Bakken Shale. He urged her to work with the states on fracking, saying that this can be a “win-win in a big way.” Having fracked a well or two herself, Jewell acknowledged that it can be done safely.

The rules have undergone “sufficient change,” and will be followed by public comment, Jewell said during a media call, The Hill reported. Last year, Interior issued a draft fracking rule that would require producers to disclose chemicals used during fracking operations on public and Native lands, but only after the operations have been completed (see NGI, May 7, 2012).

Interior decided in late January to set aside its original federal fracking proposal and rewrite a new one that would be more responsive to the concerns of the energy industry, environmentalists and the public. Industry welcomed the move by Interior and said it hoped that the administration would recognize the strong oversight provided by existing state regulations of fracking on public lands.

Citing “intense pressure” from industry and its allies in Congress, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) said last Wednesday that Interior appears to be making its proposed rules governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and gas wells on public lands weaker, not stronger.

“Earlier this year the Interior Department announced that it would take the unusual step of revising the draft fracking rule it had proposed last year. A leaked version of that revision appears to indicate that the proposal may weaken requirements for disclosure of chemicals and well construction,” Holt said during a hearing on fracking by the House Natural Resources Committee.

“Weakening these key requirements would be extremely troubling, and I will continue to closely monitor this rulemaking to ensure that the final product is sufficiently protective,” he noted.

House Republicans contend that federal fracking regulations are unnecessary and would largely duplicate states’ efforts, but Democrats have supported stronger federal oversight of fracking.

“State regulations vary widely in their requirements, the stringency of those requirements, and the efficacy with which they are implemented and enforced. That is why it is important for the Interior Department to put in place a regulatory floor of baseline of safety measures to ensure that there are minimum protections in place on all public lands in all states,” Holt stated. “And despite claims by the majority, these projections for hydraulic fracturing would be implemented on a state-by-state basis by local Bureau of Land Management offices in a way that dovetails with existing state regulations.”

©Copyright 2013Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.