By Ben Geman - 06/22/12 04:54 PM EDT
“To ensure that the public and key stakeholders, including industry and public health groups, are able to provide important feedback that will help inform any final rule, Interior has decided to extend the public comment period for our commonsense draft rule, which supports the continued development of America’s abundant oil and gas resources on federal and Indian lands by taking steps to ensure public confidence in well stimulation techniques and technologies, including hydraulic fracturing,” said spokesman Adam Fetcher.
Interior floated draft rules in May that require industry disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process. The draft rules also address well integrity and management of so-called flowback water.
The draft rule drew criticism from industry groups that say fracking is regulated adequately at the state-level, while environmentalists cheered the federal plans and argued they should be stronger.
Industry groups including the American Petroleum Institute and America’s Natural Gas Alliance had pressed Interior for a 90-day extension of the comment period.
When rolling out the draft fracking rules, Interior officials said they planned to finalize the regulations by the end of the year.
Amy Mall, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Interior should not delay them.
“The industry has plenty of money for $500 per hour attorneys that could have completed comments by the original July deadline. Meanwhile, Americans across the country are concerned about risks to their drinking water and the health of their children near fracking sites and can’t afford to wait,” said Mall, a senior policy analyst with the group.
Fetcher, the Interior spokesman, said the extended comment period probably won't delay completion of a final regulation. "We don’t expect this extension will have an impact on the timing for a final rule later this year," he said.
Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into shale formations to open seams that enable hydrocarbons to flow. The method is enabling a natural gas production boom in the United States, but is bringing fears of pollution along with it.
Heather Zichal, a top White House energy aide, discussed the decision to extend the comment period during remarks Thursday to natural gas industry officials, according to an account in the publication EnergyWire.
“We know that there are some pretty significant things within that proposal that need to be fixed and addressed, and we're going to do that,” she said in comments to the Natural Gas Roundtable, according to the story.
“Mostly in response to concerns we have heard from industry about the need to extend that comment period, we will be extending that comment period,” Zichal said.
In addition to the industry groups, parties including several state governors had also called for more time to comment on the draft regulations.
This post was updated at 1:46 p.m.