Environmental groups said the new rule relies too heavily on FracFocus, a voluntary site that critics say has loose reporting standards and allows companies to avoid disclosure by declaring certain chemicals trade secrets. A report by Harvard Law School last month said the site is plagued by loopholes, adding that government reliance on FracFocus as a regulatory tool is "misplaced or premature."
Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes defended the use of FracFocus, calling it a potentially valuable tool to make information on fracking operations available to the public.
"Let there be no doubt, what we are interested in is good public disclosures" of information on fracking and chemicals in drilling operations, Hayes said.
If the site does not work as well as officials hope, "we will look for another mechanism to make sure there is information available" to the public about chemicals used in fracking operations, Hayes said.
Besides Colorado, FracFocus is used by Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah. The site and its operators don't regulate fracking in any way, but rather provide a repository for relevant information.
Jewell, who took office last month, said she expects to be criticized by both industry and environmental groups. An industry claim that federal regulation is unnecessary "ignores that fracking is taking place on an estimated 90 percent" of wells drilled on federal and Indian lands, Jewell said. Domestic production from more than 92,000 oil and gas wells on public lands accounts for about 13 percent of the nation's natural gas production and 5 percent of U.S. oil production, the Interior Department said.
Similarly, environmental groups who say "fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed full-stop" ignore that "fracking has been done safely for decades," said Jewell, a former petroleum engineer who has worked on fracked wells.
The new rule will "help ensure that human health and security are protected," she said.
The proposal includes a provision allowing the BLM to defer to states and tribes that already have standards in place that meet or exceed those proposed by the federal rule.
Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC
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