U.S. Interior Needs To Strengthen Fracking Rules: Lawmakers
Author: Ayesha Rascoe
U.S. Democrats in the House of Representatives urged the Obama administration on Wednesday to expand proposed regulations for fracking for natural gas, saying companies should be required to reveal the chemicals to be used in the process prior to drilling.
Calling the Interior Department's draft rules for fracking on federal lands "a good first step," a group of 38 lawmakers called for disclosure of chemicals before and after drilling takes place.
"Increasing transparency by requiring the disclosure of all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process is an important start to what we hope will be broader, comprehensive energy development policies that will embrace best practices for both traditional and renewable energy development," the lawmakers said in a letter to the Interior Department.
The letter was spearheaded by Representatives Maurice Hinchey, Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Raúl Grijalva, all proponents of tighter regulation of the fracking drilling technique.
The appeal from Democrats ratchets up pressure on the Obama administration, which has tried to walk a fine line between backing rapidly increase shale gas production and responding to environmental concerns about the development.
When the Interior Department unveiled its long-awaited update to decades-old fracking rules in early May, critics immediately pounced on the administration's decision to require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking only after drilling has taken place.
Environmental groups argued that communities need know what chemicals may be pumped into the ground before drilling happens so that water supplies can be monitored in real time.
Advances in hydraulic fracturing, which involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals underground to extract fuel, have unlocked vast reserves of shale oil and gas in the United States.
But, the expanded drilling has also provoked intense backlash from some environmental groups and neighbors of drilling sites.
Responding to concerns about transparency, some drilling companies have began voluntarily releasing more details about their wells to the public. Drilling companies have argued that regulation of fracking is best left to states and warned that overly burdensome regulations could hinder production.
The Interior Department has defended its rules, saying that requiring chemical disclosure before fracking has occurred would have caused unnecessary delays.
The department plans to make final the drilling rules by the end of the year.
Facing elections in November, the Obama administration has attempted to counter attacks from Republicans that it is hostile to fossil fuel industries by touting its support for America's rising oil and gas production.
In addition to reaching out to industry groups, the administration also gave drillers more time to comply with recently finalized air rules from the Environmental Protection Agency.
(Editing by M.D. Golan)