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The Obama administration is setting new standards for the controversial hydraulic fracturing process, the first major federal effort to crack down on the practice that has largely been behind the nation’s oil and natural gas boom.

The fracking standards only apply to drilling on leased federal land and land owned by American Indian tribes, which account for less than a quarter of the country’s oil production and 17 percent of its gas. The vast majority of fracking happens off federal land, regulators said.

{mosads}The long-awaited rules from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are meant, in part, to ease public fears about a practice that involves pumping fluids miles underground to extract oil and gas from small pockets in rock.

“This rule will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters. “That’s good for the public; it’s good for industry; it’s good government.”

Jewell said the Interior Department’s current rules for oil and gas drilling do not sufficiently account for modern advances in fracking.

“We need to update our regulations to make sure they can keep up with evolving technologies and innovation by industry,” she said.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said environmental responsibility is an essential component of managing federal and Indian land.

“Ensuring safe and responsible development is critical to keeping these lands available for development into the future,” he said.

Environmentalists argue certain aspects of the fracking process can pollute waterways, groundwater, and the air and soil while posing serious threats to human health. To make matters worse, they say, drillers have used substances like formaldehyde, boric acid, benzene and xylene, and the industry has resisted calls to disclose the chemicals they use.

The rules announced Friday set standards for well construction to minimize the risk of groundwater or other contamination, strict requirements for disposal of the fluid that flows back out of the well and a mandate to publicly disclose the chemicals drillers use in them. In addition, disposal fluid must be stored in covered, above-ground tanks.

Congressional Republicans lambasted the regulations, calling them a direct attack on jobs and energy.

“This top-down regulation is duplicative, burdensome and ultimately, a direct attack on American energy production, critical tax revenue for our schools and communities, and thousands of good-paying jobs across the nation,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in a statement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, accused the Obama administration of an “anti-development approach” and said the rules will likely make it even harder to develop oil and natural gas on federal property.

The regulations also encountered opposition from oil and gas drillers.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) charged that federal regulators are forcing them to comply with two sets of standards, since they’re still subject to state regulations. The double regulation could hamper the country’s energy renaissance, the group said.

“A duplicative layer of new federal regulation is unnecessary, and we urge the BLM to work carefully with the states to minimize costs and delays created by the new rule to ensure that public lands can still be a source of job creation and economic growth,” Erik Milito, director of upstream operations for the API, said in a statement.

Some environmentalists are not happy about the rules either, saying they don’t go far enough to restrict fracking.

“We remain disappointed with some provisions like continued reliance on the industry-run website FracFocus for disclosure of toxic chemicals, and the lack of a ban on fracking in our most treasured spaces,” Madeleine Foote, the top lobbyist for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

“While this proposal has improved from previous versions, it represents a missed opportunity to set a high bar for protections that would truly increase transparency and reduce the impacts to our air, water, public lands and communities by the oil and gas industry,” she said.

Federal regulators are largely prohibited from regulating fracking on private and state land, since the practice was exempted a decade ago from federal water and air pollution laws.

— Updated at 12:11 p.m.

Tags fracking Interior Department Lisa Murkowski Sally Jewell
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