Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today said his department is developing a new policy for the disclosure of chemicals used in a process known as hydraulic fracturing to stimulate oil and gas development on public lands.
"We will be considering issuing policy that will deal with the issue of disclosure requirements with respect to the fluids that are used for hydraulic fracturing," Salazar told a packed crowd at an Interior forum on fracturing for natural gas. "There are those who argue that the best interest of the future of natural gas is to make sure there is transparency so that everybody knows what is being injected into the underground."
Salazar did not lay out a timeline for developing the policy but said today's forum, which included industry representatives, environmentalists and state regulators, would help guide the agency in rolling out a plan in the coming months.
"We will take the info assembled from this meeting and weeks and months ahead before making a decision on how to move forward," he said.
Hydraulic fracturing is used extensively on lands in the West to coax oil and gas from tight underground formations but is widely blamed for threatening the quality of groundwater resources and consuming vast amounts of scarce Western water. It can require millions of gallons of water per well.
Marcilynn Burke, deputy director for Interior's Bureau of Land Management, said hydraulic fracturing is used at about 90 percent of wells on public lands, but that BLM's regulations are limited with respect to how fracturing is conducted.
"BLM at this time receives little information about procedures and materials used when hydraulic fracturing is employed," she said. While the agency does not currently require disclosure, having the chemicals on file could aid regulators in responding to spills, she said.
Wyoming regulators have already begun requiring the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals on the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website under a new rule passed this summer that is being implemented with little trouble, said agency supervisor Tom Doll.
Steve Black, a counselor to Salazar, said BLM reserves broad authority under the Mineral Leasing Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to regulate oil and gas development on public lands but that updated regulations would only come after hearing from industry, stakeholders and state partners.
"One of the purposes of this exercise is to update and examine regulations as required," Black said, adding that terms and conditions of developing oil and gas are generally spelled out in a lease. "Today's meeting is about starting that dialogue."
Scott Anderson, senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund, said at a Heritage Foundation forum on fracturing today that the industry is not going to get past its public perception problem until it addresses the need for disclosure.
"Nothing good will happen for the industry perceptionwise until there is disclosure," Anderson said. "It's not just that industry looks like it's hiding something. It's that they are hiding something."
Industry maintains hydraulic fracturing is safe and has been successfully employed for decades with few spills and no proven cases of drinking water contamination.
"Hydraulic fracturing combines a proven technology with an advanced drilling technique that allows us to access domestic natural gas resources that were inaccessible just a few years ago," said Sara Banaszak, senior economist for the American Petroleum Institute, in a statement today. "Developing this domestic natural gas will mean billions of dollars in government revenue and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."
API said best practices and existing state regulations have successfully protected the environment for years and will continue to be improved to meet new operational challenges with respect to well construction, water use and management, and surface environmental considerations.
Reporter Mike Soraghan contributed.
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