The Obama Administration has finally established an initial set of rules governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling on federal public lands.
According to a Reuters report, the Dept. of Interior announced the unveiling of these rules Friday morning and they represent the first federal regulations on the drilling process since a 2005 federal energy bill allowed fracking drillers to conduct the controversial natural gas exploration free of almost all regulation.
Under rules established by the Interior Dept. this week, fracking drillers looking to find natural gas from underground shale deposits on public federal land must obtain permits from the federal government first. Private property drilling is not covered under the auspices of the Interior Dept.’s rules.
In addition to that restriction, drillers must also disclose the chemicals they plan to use in the drilling process. The report does not indicate whether fracking drillers will be allowed to withhold the agents used in the process that drillers consider “trade secrets.” Disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process has been a point of contention between the governments and public and environmental advocates and the companies doing the drilling.
Fracking uses more than 600 chemicals, hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, and a drill which are all ushered into an underground well until they reach shale formations about two miles below the surface. The rock is blasted apart and natural gas deposits are released. The drilling process has been linked to numerous problems, including its ability to cause localized pollution of groundwater and soil. People living within a mile of an active fracking well are more likely to have their private water wells contaminated with the chemicals used or produced by the fracking process, namely methane gas. This has also caused those living closest to wells to suffer health complications like breathing difficulties and eye irritation.
Many believe those complications and pollution are caused by the chemicals used in the fracking process, either being released into the air as the gas and fracking fluid rushes to the surface or through faults created underground because of the nature of the process. Companies using the fracking process have avoided full disclosure of the chemicals used in the process despite repeated attempts from those who’ve been adversely affected by drilling, local and state governments, and environmental advocates.
The federal regulations for fracking on public land are the first in what has been promised would be more comprehensive rules governing the drilling as the U.S. experiences a boom in natural gas production in recent years. Almost wanton drilling free of regulation has created a surplus of gas supplies and has dropped the cost of natural gas in the U.S. recently but has also put thousands, if not millions of people at risk of contamination caused by drilling.
State and local governments have proven to be almost powerless against fracking companies which rely on federal rules to supercede any attempts to curb drilling in the U.S. Fracking wells have been opened by the thousands in the Mid Atlantic region where natural gas companies have converged looking to get what could be billions of dollars in energy reserves from the massive Marcellus shale formation underlying the region.
The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly balked at passing its own regulations on drilling while it conducts a comprehensive review of the process, exploring the benefits and drawbacks of the process.