Don’t expect the Department of Interior to come out with a final rule addressing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public lands before the end of the year, said an official representing exploration and production interests in the West.

The original year-end deadline for the final rule “was more of a self-imposed deadline” set by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for Western Energy Alliance (WEA) in Denver.

After receiving 170,000 comments on the proposed rule, “I think they just decided they couldn’t get it done by the end of the year,” she told NGI’s Shale Daily. But the department has not indicated when it will issue the final rule in 2013. “Is it going to be two months, three months? I have no idea.”

WEA applauded Interior for seeking to “engage in a more deliberative process, rather than trying to rush the rule.” The group said “it makes sense that BLM [Bureau of Land Management] is taking more time to adjust the rule, but we believe a wholesale rethinking is necessary. With an estimated cost to society of $1.5 billion [a year], BLM needs to slow down, conduct the economic analysis that was missing from the proposed rule, and consult with states and tribes. We believe if BLM performed that proper analysis, it would determine that a new, redundant rule is not necessary.”

WEA’s view mirrors the position of most natural gas producers, which oppose federally regulating fracking because they believe states have effectively policed the industry over the years. They argue that the BLM final rule would pancake state regulation of the oil and gas industry.

In addition to WEA, several western state governors, tribes, members of Congress, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and others have publicly opposed BLM’s plan to possibly regulate fracking on public lands.

In February BLM issued its proposed rule requiring that drill on public and Native American lands to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations (see Shale Daily, Feb. 6). A few months later the agency made an adjustment, saying the companies would only have to disclose the information after operations have been completed (see Shale Daily, May 7). The BLM currently is reviewing industry comments on the proposal.