Gas industry presses White House on 'fracking' rules

Natural-gas companies are taking concerns about looming Interior Department "fracking" regulations to the White House with efforts that include a meeting between a major producer and the Obama administration’s top regulatory official.

The recent meetings — which include trade groups and big players like Exxon and Anadarko Petroleum — are part of a wider industry push to ensure that regulation of the development method doesn’t create what the companies consider burdensome requirements that stymie production.

Interior is readying to propose rules to govern fracking, which is short for hydraulic fracturing, that occurs on public lands. The rules are expected to require disclosure of chemical ingredients used in the fracking process, and also address well integrity and water management.

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Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Chairman Jim Hackett and other company officials met April 3 with Cass Sunstein, who heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Anadarko, according to a presentation provided to OMB, fears that the rules could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of annual delays for industry projects on public lands, and warns of “onerous” reporting requirements.

The presentation also cites concerns that Interior could deny fracking from occurring at wells that have already been drilled.

Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations to open up seams that enable trapped gas to flow.

The method, along with advances in horizontal drilling technology, is enabling a U.S. gas production boom but bringing pollution fears along with it.

Environmental groups are pushing for stronger federal oversight on several fronts, including the repeal of a 2005 law that shields fracking from certain EPA Safe Drinking Water Act rules.

Anadarko’s presentation to the White House has several recommendations for the looming Interior rules. They include adoption of the format used by FracFocus — a voluntary disclosure database run by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission — for the required federal disclosures.

The presentation, along with the list of White House, Anadarko and Interior officials at the April 3 meeting, is available here.

Interior is expected to propose the rules soon.

White House records also show a March 22 meeting between representatives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy, OMB and Interior.

Online records show that White House and Interior staff also met with a group of trade associations on Feb. 29: the American Petroleum Institute, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the American Exploration and Production Council, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the U.S. Oil and Gas Association.

The trade groups, in a mid-February letter to a House committee, sought to counter Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s claim that many industry officials would like to see a uniform federal standard.

The groups say they support current state-level requirements, and that Interior should use the FracFocus system “instead of attempting to create a different, costly and unnecessary new reporting process.” They also say there is no need for a “national well construction model.”

Federal officials have signaled that they could let companies disclose the required data through FracFocus, which is currently a voluntary registry, The Houston Chronicle reported April 8.

But the paper also reports that an initial draft of the upcoming rules called for companies to provide the chemical information directly to regulators.

Obama administration officials say they strongly support expanded natural-gas production, and argue the rules are needed to ensure protections and public confidence that development will proceed safely.

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing separate air emissions rules for wells developed with hydraulic fracturing, and studying fracking’s effect on water supplies.