The Obama administration disclosed Friday a new set of rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, a controversial drilling method employed by the oil and gas industry that had raised concerns of water supply pollution and other environmental hazards.
Obviously, the new rules were contested by the oil industry, but environmentalists were also upset. On Friday, the Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Assn. of America have quickly filed a lawsuit to block the new regulations from taking effect.
Energy companies and the states that allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on their territory complained that the new rules would negatively impact the domestic energy market. But the Interior Department officials that drafted the new rules said that new regulation was vital since safety standards requested by some states hadn’t been updated for more than two decades.
Sally Jewel, former petroleum engineer and co-author of the new fracking rules, explained that the current rules were considerably behind technological advance. She also added that the new regulations will help better prevent leakage of chemicals used in fracking, while forcing the industry to report the substances used in its fracking operations.
Ms. Jewel also expressed her concern about the implications on the safety of groundwater that fracking may have. The public is also stricken with fear about earthquakes and other irreversible damages this relatively new drilling method may cause.
According to the new regulations, companies have to report the chemicals they use when drilling and secure their fracking wells with solid cement barriers to prevent toxic leakages into groundwater.
Also, energy companies will have to give officials detailed information on their wells to prevent contamination from one fracking well to another.
Although they seem very strict, the new rules will not apply to the tens of thousands of wells that are already fracking. Also, the rules won’t take effect until 90 days have passed. The Interior Department acknowledged that currently there are about 100,000 gas and oil wells on federal land, while more than 90 percent of them are currently being fracked.
Additionally, the new rules do not apply to private or state land. Many environmentalists contested the new rules because the vast majority of these wells are located on private or state land. The general public is also unhappy with the new regulation because land owners get benefits from energy companies that frack on their property, while neighbors suffer the consequences, such as groundwater pollution, earthquakes, damaged roads, and methane release.
Currently, fracking was accepted as a drilling method in 19 states, but there is a lot of pressure coming from the general public and environmentalists to shut down the wells as they endanger groundwater, wildlife, and may cause artificial seismic activity in their close vicinity.
Nevertheless, the industry claims that the method is absolutely safe, so banning it may hurt America’s global energy superpower status and force it to start importing oil and gas again. Also, energy companies mentioned the new jobs fracking has brought, along with lower gasoline prices.
But, environmentalists expressed their discontent that Obama administration didn’t go far enough and pledged that they wouldn’t stop until they would obtain a complete ban on fracking on public lands.