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Interior Chief Defends Federal Fracking Regulations

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that “the states vary in their understanding of hydraulic fracturing." Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell drew on her experience as a former oil-industry engineer to defend proposed federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on publicly owned land.

Testifying to the House Natural Resources committee today, Jewell faced criticisms from Republican lawmakers, who said the department’s proposed rule on fracturing, or fracking, will lead to unnecessary production delays.

Fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are shot underground to break apart rocks and free trapped gas, has soared as new technologies have opened up more and deeper resources of oil and gas. Interior’s rules would set minimum standards for well construction, disclosure of chemicals and water management when fracking is used on federal lands.

Lawmakers told Jewell that state regulators best know the local geology and the federal government should leave the regulation to them.

“The states vary in their understanding of hydraulic fracturing,” Jewell said. Some states, such as Wyoming, have strong rules, while “in many cases, the state rules don’t exist or are out of date.”

Further, no matter where a well is drilled, “having well-bore integrity is essential,” she said, using the technical term for cementing and casing wells to prevent leaks.

Jewell also drew on her engineering experience at Mobil Oil Co., now part of Exxon Mobil Corp., to answer Representative Alan Lowenthal, a California Democrat, who complained that the Interior proposal relies on the industry’s FracFocus website for disclosure of fracking chemicals.

FracFocus “is imperfect, but it’s being updated,” she said. If it’s not providing adequate disclosure, “we will look for other ways to do it.”

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