Citing “intense pressure” from industry and its allies in Congress, a New Jersey congressman said Wednesday that the Interior Department 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,” said Democratic Rep. Rush Holt 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.”

On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the department was “very close” to releasing a draft rule on fracking (see Shale Daily, May 8). It’s a matter of “weeks, not months,” she told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. She was there to defend Interior’s $10.9 billion budget request for fiscal 2014.

Interior in late January set aside its original federal fracking proposal and rewrote a new one that officials said would be more responsive to the concerns of the energy industry, environmentalists and the public. Industry welcomed the move by Interior and many operators and state leaders have said they hope that the administration would recognize the strong oversight provided by existing state regulations of fracking on public lands.

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