Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told a Senate panel Thursday that the public comment period on the proposed hydraulic fracturing (fracking) rule would be extended by 60 days, giving producers, state regulators and environmentalists a total of 90 days to pore over the 171-page document.

The original comment period on the draft rule, which was issued by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in mid-May, was 30 days (see Shale Daily, May 20). Jewell announced the 60-day comment extension during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

More details on the exact timing of the comment deadline will be available in the coming days in the Federal Register, a department spokeswoman said. It appears that the new comment period deadline will expire on Aug. 23, said Dan Naatz, vice president of federal resources and political affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents small oil and gas producers.

Interior’s announcement comes a few weeks after the IPAA requested that Interior extend the comment period by “no less than 120 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.” Obviously, “we would have liked more time, but this helps,” Naatz said.

He said the IPAA is putting together a technical working group committee to look at the draft fracking rule. Asked if he thought Interior would issue a final fracking rule this year, he said “it depends on how many comments they get.”

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said the extension was the right decision, citing the number of questions that still remain unanswered.

“Industry will need the time to effectively review and comment on all of the existing various state and federal agency regulatory activities that overlap with much of what BLM is proposing. States have led the way in regulating hydraulic fracturing operations while protecting communities and the environment for decades,” said Erik Milito, API director of upstream and industry operations.

The draft rule governs fracking activities on public lands, and while proponents and opponents agree that some concessions were made by the agency in the latest rule to avoid duplication of state and tribal fracking requirements, they say BLM could have gone further.

One such concession would continue reliance on the state- and industry-led development of a central point of disclosure for chemicals used in fracking. The BLM said it is working closely with the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission “so that operators may report chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations to BLM through the existing website [hosted by the two organizations], which is already well established and used by many states.”

BLM said it understands that “the database is in the process of being improved and will in the near future have enhanced search capabilities and allow for easier reporting of information.”

“While changes to the proposed rule attempt to better acknowledge the state role, BLM has yet to answer the question [of] why BLM is moving forward with these requirements in the first place,” said Milito.

Interior explained in the draft rule why a federal rule is needed. “The BLM recognizes the efforts of some states to regulate hydraulic fracturing and seeks to avoid duplicative regulatory requirements. However, it is important to recognize that a major impetus for a separate BLM rule is that states are not legally required to meet the stewardship standards applying to public lands and do not have trust responsibilities for Indian lands under federal jurisdiction.”