Government Proposes New Federal Fracking Regulations

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is fighting to pass the government's proposed federal fracking regulations, despite industry claims that state-level regulation is sufficient to protect the environment and citizens living near operation sites. Fracking is a method of natural gas extraction which requires the high-pressure injection of water, chemicals and sand into shale formations to enable cracks that allow the resource to flow to the surface.

Under the newly proposed legislation, introduced by Salazar in May 2012, all companies engaged in fracking operations anywhere in the country would be required to disclose which chemicals they are injecting into the land. The bill would, however, allow companies to protect the identity of chemicals which they consider to be part of their "trade secrets." Currently, several individual states, including Wyoming, Michigan and Texas, have already passed fracking disclosure laws, while similar bills are pending in other state legislatures; there is, however, no current uniform disclosure law for the country. As a result, a proposed disclosure bill in Arkansas was withdrawn from consideration, and ones in Indiana and Maryland died before being passed into law. Failure such as these emphasize the need for federal disclosure mandates.

In addition to regulating chemical disclosures, Salazar's proposed legislation includes requirements to improve assurances on well-bore security, so that local residents can feel confident that the chemicals used in fracking operations are not escaping and contaminating the land and water resources. The bill would also require operators to have a firm water management plan in place to address the appropriate handling, storage and/or disposal of fracking fluids that come back to the surface.

Fracking industry officials are fighting the imposition of federal regulations, claiming that they will add additional costs to operations and slow development, but Salazar is unimpressed by these complaints. In a Reuters interview on June 28, Salazar commented on the proposed legislation and its challengers, saying, "There are some who are saying that (imposing federal standards is) not something we ought to do; it should be left up to the states. That's not good enough for me, because states are at a very different level, some have zero, some have decent rules."

He acknowledged the importance of natural gas resources to the country, saying, "Shale gas has provided the United States the opportunity to have 100 years of supply that is domestically produced." He qualified his statement by emphasizing that energy independence could not come at the cost of environmental safety. "If we are going to develop natural gas from shale," he continued, "it has to be done in a safe and responsible manner." In order to accomplish that goal, Salazar and the current federal government plan to have the proposed rules completed by the end of the year.

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