Top Obama energy aide: 'Fracking' rules coming by year's end

A senior White House official said Monday that regulations to toughen oversight of oil-and-gas “fracking” on federal lands are on track despite a two-month extension of the public comment period announced last week.

Heather Zichal, the top White House energy aide, told reporters that she expects the Interior Department rules regulating hydraulic fracturing, dubbed fracking, to be completed by year’s end.

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An Interior department spokesman offered the same forecast Friday. But the comments from a senior White House official could help ease jitters among environmentalists, who fear the extension of the comment period, until mid-September, on the draft rules could set back the measure.

“We are committed to doing the rule and we are committed to finalizing it,” Zichal told reporters after remarks at the think tank NDN.

Advocates of tougher “fracking” oversight will have their eyes on the calendar, especially if President Obama loses the White House to Mitt Romney, his GOP rival.

Romney has accused the White House of creating unnecessary regulations, and his campaign tells The Hill that Romney does not support Interior’s rules.

The decision to grant a two-month extension followed a push by oil-and-gas industry groups — who oppose plans for new federal regulation — and several states for more time to weigh in on rules proposed in draft form in May.

Zichal cast the extension as a positive step toward crafting final rules.

“I think we saw and heard some issues both from the environmental community, from the industry side, and we need a little bit more time to look at those issues and allow them to engage in this process, and I think the more people are allowed to engage in the process we will be able to end up with a better rule,” she said at NDN, a left-leaning think tank.

In her wide-ranging remarks on energy to the group, Zichal touted White House plans to spur development of both traditional and alternative sources, including natural gas.

Administration officials say they strongly back expanded gas production but want to ensure fracking is conducted with proper safeguards.

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.

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.

Elsewhere in her remarks, Zichal said Obama will continue making the case for White House energy policies. The president has given a slew of energy-themed speeches this year to help parry GOP attacks.

“I expect you will continue to hear a lot from the president,” she said. Zichal also kept up pressure on Congress to extend tax credits for wind energy projects.

The production tax credit is slated to expire at the end of the year, and wind industry officials say the uncertainty has already begun causing layoffs along the supply chain.

Zichal noted recent comments by Karl Rove, who was former President George W. Bush’s top political adviser, in support of extending the credit to show the breadth of backing for the incentives.

“There is not a good reason for why Congress has not acted,” Zichal said. “You can expect to continue to hear from the president directly on that.”