Oil and gas trade group guarded on upcoming fracking rules

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said earlier this week that federal fracking rules will come in a matter of weeks. The rules will outline requirements for establishing well integrity, managing so-called flowback water and also force drilling firms to disclose chemicals they use in the fracking process.

The API has maintained that states are best left to regulate fracking, as they’ve done for decades. It contends states have a better idea of what practices work given their specific geologies and that federal rules would be overly prescriptive and duplicative.

Milito acknowledged the federal rules are also designed to assuage public fears regarding the controversial drilling method.

“I think they understand our concerns. It’s just going to be a matter of how best to have those assurances for the public that we are moving forward with a good well, and we are protecting potential water supplies,” Milito said.

Fracking involves injecting a high-pressure cocktail of water, sand and chemicals into tight-rock formations to tap hydrocarbons buried deep underground.

Industry and many states contend fracking is safe, but the practice has sparked concerns about pollution.

Milito said API had met with Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) a little more than a month ago to discuss the upcoming rules.

He said the API also had other concerns about how the BLM was restructuring its process for vetting onshore oil and gas leases on federal lands.

Under changes rolled out by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, drilling firms must now complete a “master leasing plan” before securing a lease.

The master leasing plans require drillers to identify land use conflicts and go through a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. Interior implemented the more thorough analysis in response to a high volume of protests for oil and gas leases.

Milito said the new requirements are too lengthy and might deter drilling on federal lands.

“It’s a long bureaucratic process which kind of drives people away from investing in BLM production,” Milito said.

But some say the states already enforce the master leasing plans unevenly, and that stronger federal oversight is necessary.

Ellis Richard, a retired park ranger who recently launched a conservation group called Park Rangers for Our Lands, said Colorado has been more lax in its enforcement master leasing plans than other states.

“Other priorities should be considered equally with oil and gas,” Richard told The Hill this week. “All of that comes into play when you do the appropriate planning.”