WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said Friday that it was requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal land to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It is the first major federal regulation of the controversial drilling technique that has sparked an ongoing boom in natural gas production but raised widespread concerns about possible groundwater contamination.
The Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced the rule, which will take effect in June. It also updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids used in fracking, as the drilling method is more commonly known.
While the new rule only applies to federal land - which contains just one-tenth of natural gas drilling in the United States - the administration hopes the rule will set a standard for hydraulic fracturing that states and other regulators will follow.
Pennsylvania is one of the top states for natural gas drilling. None of the current drilling rigs is on federal land, but Pennsylvania is one of 32 states in which BLM has leases. The state has leased property to drilling companies.
The rule has been under consideration for more than three years, drawing criticism from the oil and gas industry and environmental groups alike. The industry fears federal regulation could duplicate efforts by states and hinder the drilling boom, while some environmental groups worry that lenient rules could allow unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.
Reaction to the rule was immediate. An industry group announced it was filing a lawsuit in Wyoming to block the regulation and the Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee announced legislation to keep fracking regulations under state management.
The final rule hews closely to a draft that has lingered since the administration proposed it in May 2013. The rule relies on an online database used by at least 16 states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. The website, FracFocus.org, was formed by industry and intergovernmental groups in 2011, and allows users to gather well-specific data on tens of thousands of drilling sites across the country. Companies will have to disclose the chemicals they use within 30 days of the fracking operation.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who worked on fracking operations in Oklahoma long before joining the government in 2013, said decades-old federal regulations have failed to keep pace with modern technological advances.
"I've personally fracked wells, so I understand the risk as well as the reward," Jewell said, noting the need for transparency and safety. "We owe it to our kids to get this right."