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Interior Sets New Drilling Rules

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said Friday it will require companies drilling for natural gas on public and Indian lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.

The proposed “fracking” rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the long-awaited rules will allow continued expansion of natural gas drilling while protecting public health and safety.

“As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place,” Salazar said.

The proposed rule will “modernize our management of well-stimulation activities, including hydraulic fracturing, to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices,” he said.

Industry groups and Republican lawmakers say federal rules are unnecessary, arguing that states already regulate hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and chemicals are in injected underground to break up dense rock that holds oil and gas.

Critics say the chemicals have polluted water supplies, but supporters say there is no proof.

Tom Amontree, executive vice president for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an industry group, said the Obama administration “may not fully appreciate” significant regulatory steps taken by states such as Colorado, Texas and Wyoming to oversee hydraulic fracturing.

“State regulatory bodies have repeatedly proven that they have the understanding of their state’s own unique geologic conditions, the on-the-ground expertise needed to oversee this important work, and most importantly, the ability to respond to rapid change,” Amontree said. As drafted, the federal proposal would create reporting requirements and “regulatory impediments” that could substantially affect the ability of companies to drill on public lands, he said.

The government maintains that the new rules, which have been under consideration for a year and a half, reflect industry concerns. For instance, the rule on disclosure of chemicals used in fracking was softened to allow companies to file reports after drilling operations are completed, rather than before they begin, as initially proposed. Industry groups said the earlier proposal could have caused lengthy delays.

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