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White House Unveils New Fracking Regulations


The Obama administration today released a new set of rules for oil and gas drilling on public land. As NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, the rules are meant to keep companies from polluting water when they use the engineering technique known as fracking.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Hydraulic fracturing is what made the current drilling booms possible. Companies force hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals deep underground to open up cracks in the rock and make the oil or natural gas flow faster.

The draft rules are coming out of the Interior Department. Secretary Ken Salazar says his proposal is intended to reassure Americans.

SECRETARY KEN SALAZAR: Public confidence in hydraulic fracturing is important. And so, this is part of what we have to do to make sure that the American public has confidence in the future of natural gas in America.

SHOGREN: The rules would require companies to publicly report the chemicals they use when they're fracking, although companies would still be allowed to keep some of those chemicals private as trade secrets. The rules also would set standards for building wells. That's because there's been a concern that faulty well construction has contaminated ground water.

Environmental groups applaud the proposal. Amy Mall represents the Natural Resources Defense Council.

AMY MALL: This is a big step forward. The administration has basically said that the oil and gas industry no longer gets a free ride from regulation.

SHOGREN: But Mall says the rules need to be stricter.

Erik Milito represents the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group. He says the proposal is overkill because states already have rules for constructing wells and managing wastewater. And because many already require companies to disclose most of the chemicals they use in fracking.

ERIK MILITO: The concern is that now you have a set of federal regulations about the exact same subject matter and the exact same activity, they're asking you to do things differently and asking for a different set of information.

SHOGREN: Last month the Environmental Protection Agency set new rules to reduce air pollution from the same industry.

Elizabeth Shogren. NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Shogren is an NPR News Science Desk correspondent focused on covering environment and energy issues and news.