Feds set to unveil hydraulic fracturing rule within weeks

The Obama administration is set to unveil federal regulations governing hydraulic fracturing and drilling on public lands within weeks, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday.

Jewell’s timeline echoes that of her predecessor, Ken Salazar, who called the rule “imminent” during a congressional hearing on April 12.

Pressed for a more specific timetable, Jewell said the Bureau of Land Management was set to release the draft drilling rule within “weeks, not months.”

Jewell’s comments came during a teleconference with reporters to highlight a new U.S. Geological Survey assessment of the oil and gas resources lurking in the Bakken and Three Forks formations in North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota.

The drilling rule at issue aims to tighten standards on oil and natural gas unlocked through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

A version unveiled last May would have forced energy companies to reveal the chemicals they use when drilling for oil and natural gas on federal lands. But in a provision that riled environmentalists, the Interior Department decided to require those disclosures only after the substances are pumped underground.

Photos: How fracking transforms fortunes, land

The initial proposed rule also would have imposed new well construction standards, testing requirements and mandates for managing and storing water that flows back after fracturing begins.

But in January, after sifting through nearly 200,000 public comments on the 2012 draft, the bureau announced it was retooling the plan.
Jewell on Tuesday acknowledged that the rule has been “sufficiently changed,” to merit asking for additional comments when the proposal is unveiled.

While the new interior secretary did not detail any of the revisions, a leaked draft of the pending rule revealed companies would be able to disclose the chemicals used at drilling sites via an existing industry-backed website, FracFocus.

– Jeannie Kever contributed to this report.