WHEELING - Neither environmentalists nor natural gas industry leaders seemed happy with the Obama administration's proposed new natural gas and oil fracking regulations for public lands.
"The oil and gas industry has gotten used to operating in the shadows for too long - hiding chemical information, fighting against right-to-know laws, silencing families who speak out. It's unacceptable and needs to end now," said Jessica Ennis, legislative representative for environmental organization Earthjustice, speaking on behalf of those who believe the rule would not do enough.
"Nobody wants to drink diesel-infused tap water. That's why the oil and gas industry needs to stop pumping diesel underground during fracking.The risk to drinking water sources is too high and the oil and gas industry's track record is too dismal," she added.
The proposed rule, released Friday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, would compel natural gas frackers to publicly disclose the chemicals they plan to use when working on public and Indian lands, though protecting proprietary blending information. However, drillers would only need to do this after fracking operations are already finished. It would allow the federal Bureau of Land Management to regulate the process, but this does not seem to be enough for Ennis.
"For one, the oil and gas industry needs to disclose the chemicals they'll be using in fracking before they are pumped into the ground. This information is essential so communities can test drinking water before fracking occurs and monitor the safety of water supplies in real time," said Ennis. "If there's a problem with their water, families deserve to know immediately - not after they've been drinking it for years."
The draft rule contains two additional measures, which Salazar said should ensure development continues safely and responsibly: Improving protections to ensure well-bore integrity to prevent frack fluid from escaping; and requiring oil and gas frackers to have appropriate water management plans in place for handling flow back water, which flushes back up through the well once fracking is complete.
"As the president has made clear, this administration's energy strategy is an all-out effort to boost American production of every available source of energy," said Salazar. "As we continue to offer millions of acres of America's public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place."
Fracking - in which drillers blast millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth at high pressure to break the Marcellus and Utica shale rocks to release the gas - is now exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Some common chemicals known to be used in fracking include hydrochloric acid, found in swimming pool cleaner and used to help dissolve minerals and crack the rock; ethylene glycol, found in antifreeze and used to prevent scale deposits in the pipe that lines the wells; citric acid, found in soda pop and used to prevent precipitation of metal; potassium chloride, found in medicine and salt substitutes and used to prevent fluid from interacting with soil; and sodium carbonate, found in laundry detergent and used to balance acidic substances.
Industry leaders said state regulators should be the ones to oversee fracking, rather than the federal government, because they say each state's geography and cultural are unique.
"State regulatory bodies have repeatedly proven that they have the understanding of their state's own unique geologic conditions, the on-the-ground expertise needed to oversee this important work, and most importantly, the ability to respond to rapid change," said Tom Amontree, executive vice president for America's Natural Gas Alliance, on the Bureau of Land Management. "The proposal as drafted would create reporting requirements, regulatory impediments and certifications that could substantially affect the ability to produce resources that are placed in the Bureau of Land Management's stewardship for the benefit of all Americans."