Natural gas fracking rules considered by U.S. agency for public land

The U.S. is weighing whether to impose new rules on hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas on public lands.

Companies such as Anadarko Petroleum Corp. of The Woodlands and Treasure Resources Inc. of Windsor, Colorado, may be required to disclose chemicals used in the drilling and adopt well-integrity standards as part of the permit process, Robert Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management, said in an interview today in Bloomberg’s Washington office.

“We have the authority to move forward with our own rule- making to require such a disclosure and other best-management practices that we deem are feasible and appropriate,” Abbey said. Such regulations are being “seriously entertained,” he said.

In fracturing, or fracking, companies inject water, sand and chemicals under high pressure thousands of feet underground to break up shale-rock formations and release the gas trapped there. The technique is used for more than 90 percent of wells drilled on public lands, Abbey said.

Environmentalists and local officials have said the technique can pollute water resources.

Natural-gas production on federal lands rose 6.5 percent to 2.97 trillion cubic feet, or 14 percent of U.S. production, last year, according to the agency’s website.

Abbey said the bureau had no evidence that fracking has “adversely affected groundwater.”

Disclosure, Best Practices

To ease public fears, companies should voluntarily disclose the chemicals they use and adopt “best practices” to prevent leaks from wells that could pollute water supplies that are thousands of feet above the gas reserves, he said.

“The integrity of well casing is very, very important,” Abbey said.

The agency, part of the Interior Department, will wait for the final results of a task force set up by the Energy Department to review the risks of hydraulic fracturing before deciding whether to impose rules, he said.

Last week, the task force released a draft report that said natural-gas companies risk causing serious environmental damage unless they adhere to certain standards.