Release of fracking rule 'imminent', says Interior head

Posted: Apr 12, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, E&E New PM

Release of a revised rule for regulating hydraulic fracturing on public lands is "imminent," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in his final appearance before Congress as Interior secretary.

"I expect my successor will be announcing it in the very near future," Salazar told the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. The Senate yesterday confirmed REI executive Sally Jewell to replace Salazar.

"We believe that hydraulic fracking can be done safely," Salazar said, "but we believe the rules we have been working on will allow us to make sure that we're fully developing the oil and natural gas potential on public lands."

Salazar didn't provide details of the new draft or a specific timeline but noted it will still contain the three main components he has pushed for years: disclosure of chemicals injected underground, well-bore integrity and management of water that flows back to the surface.

The rule's anticipated release follows weeks of intense lobbying by oil majors and national environmental groups at the White House in hopes of influencing the new rule (EnergyWire, March 7).

A draft of the revised fracking rule obtained by EnergyWire suggested the Bureau of Land Management favored allowing companies to report the chemicals they use through an industry-backed database; however, it is unclear whether the revised rule has since been changed by the White House (EnergyWire, Feb. 8).

Jewell, who is expected to officially take over Interior tomorrow, told a Senate panel last month that she personally fracked wells while working for Mobil Oil Corp. decades ago. But she has said little about how she would treat the BLM rule.

"I think working alongside states, working alongside scientists, working alongside industry is the right approach to come up with a set of rules that are safe for the environment but also support the opportunities" for drilling, she said during her confirmation hearing last month.

Salazar today also told appropriators the department's fiscal 2014 budget request seeks to ensure taxpayers are compensated for extraction of public minerals.

"The principle ... is making sure that what we're doing is achieving the goal of getting a fair return to taxpayers and doing it in a cost-efficient way," he said. The Interior budget released yesterday proposes significant reforms to royalty collections on public lands and new fees on oil and gas inspections and non-producing leases, proposals that have failed to pass Congress in previous years.

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