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Interior Secretary: Fracking Regulations Will Be Based on Best Science

Secretary Sally Jewell told a Senate subcommittee that her department is "very close" to unveiling rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil on public lands
Sally Jewell



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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration's second attempt at writing regulations for hydraulic fracturing on public lands is not intended to appease either environmentalists or oil and gas drillers, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said on Tuesday.

Jewell told lawmakers at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing that the department was "very close" to unveiling the rules and reiterated a recent comment that the rules would be out in "weeks, not months."

Jewell was also pressed about the department's plans to issue regulations for offshore drilling in the Arctic.

The Interior Department faced heat from green groups and industry a year ago, when it unveiled its initial proposal to update decades-old fracking regulations. Energy trade groups argued the rules were onerous while greens said they did not go far enough to protect the public.

Eventually, the department, then led by Ken Salazar, scrapped the proposals and went back to the drawing board. Environmentalists have raised concerns the new regulations may be too accommodating of drillers, however.

"The fracking rules are not bowing to industry pressure or environmental pressure," Jewell told reporters after her first hearing since assuming the top post at Interior in April.

Jewell said the proposed regulations would use the "best science" and take into account modern technologies and practices. The former oil company engineer noted that she had "fracked a well before."

The initial draft rules included new reporting standards and a requirement that companies reveal chemicals they use in fracking only after they complete drilling.

Advances in drilling techniques, including fracking, have unlocked vast reserves of shale oil and gas and put the United States on a path to energy self-sufficiency.

But some communities near new hubs of drilling activity have complained that the development may be threatening water supplies and polluting the air, and has inadequate oversight.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to extract fuel.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, pressed Jewell on the outlook for offshore drilling regulations in the Arctic.

Royal Dutch Shell abandoned plans to drill in the Arctic this year after facing a number of setbacks in 2012, including the dramatic grounding of a drillship while it was being towed south for the winter.

ConocoPhillips shelved plans to explore for oil in the Arctic in 2014 as well, citing regulatory uncertainty.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said the department expects to propose regulations by year-end that would mirror the requirements set forth in Shell's approved exploration plans.

Hayes told reporters that any delay in finalizing the rules would not affect companies' drilling plans as long as they agreed to meet the minimum standards that were set forth when Shell made its attempt to drill in 2012.

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