Interior chief defends ‘fracking’ rules amid GOP, industry attacks

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, facing fresh GOP criticism, on Wednesday defended plans to impose new regulations on oil and gas “fracking” on public lands.

Republicans and industry groups say the planned regulations are not needed, arguing that state regulation of hydraulic fracturing provides safe oversight.

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“Why do we need to put down an entire layer of regulations from [Interior’s Bureau of Land Management]? ... Why do we need to do that when there appears to be no problem?” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) asked at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing.

But Jewell said minimum federal standards are needed for fracking on federal and Indian land, noting that states vary in their ability and understanding of the development method.

Jewell said fracking technology, used alongside horizontal drilling methods, is evolving and also noted there are multiple fractures within hydrocarbon reservoirs and higher pressures than seen before.

She also said that federal regulators are deferring to states if their oversight is sufficiently strong.

“If the state standards meet or exceed the federal standards, we will be going with the state or tribal standards. ... [I]n many cases, the standards don’t exist or are variable within states, and so we felt that they needed to be modernized on federal lands,” Jewell said during her first appearance before the House panel since her April confirmation.

The regulation, which has been proposed in draft form, will address disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process and also set requirements on well integrity and management of so-called flowback water.

Fracking is enabling a U.S. oil and gas production boom but bringing fears of water pollution along with it.

It involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into shale formations to open seams that enable gas and oil to escape.

The growth of fracking, combined with horizontal drilling techniques, has helped send U.S. oil production to its highest level in two decades and natural gas production to record levels.