Interior: New fracking rules are good for public, industry

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced new rules for hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands Friday, arguing that the cost of stronger water and air protections will pay off for industry as well as people living near oil and gas wells.

“I don’t think anybody would say it’s common sense to keep regulations in place that were created over 30 years ago,” Jewell, a conservationist and former petroleum engineer, said in a conference call with reporters. “I know there are comments coming out of Congress trying to undermine this, but I think at the end of the day, the industry certainly recognizes that thoughtful regulation can help them, because it reassures the public that there are rules in place that protect them.”

Industry groups see the Interior Department's action differently. The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance immediately filed suit over the rule — which includes a ban on waste pits — and called it “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns.” The groups contend that the federal government should leave such regulations to the states.

U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Friday that he has introduced legislation to require that.

The Interior Department said only 13 of the 32 states with oil and gas leases on federally managed land have fracking regulation in place. The agency calls the federal rule a baseline standard and said it includes a variance process for states and tribes with equal or tighter protections.

More than 100,000 oil and gas wells have been sunk on federally managed lands, and about 90 percent of those now drilled use fracking techniques, the agency says.

Reaction from environmental groups Friday was mixed. The Natural Resources Defense Council gave the new requirements a thumbs-down, saying they “put the interests of big oil and gas above people’s health.” Earthworks said the rule didn’t go far enough but praised two of the standards — well-integrity tests and the ban on waste pits — as “a significant improvement over business-as-usual.”

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This story is part of Big Oil, Bad Air. Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas. Click here to read more stories in this investigation.

Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.