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Interior Department Issues New Federal Rules On 'Fracking'

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The Obama administration issued new rules today governing the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal lands. Political fractures quickly followed. Critics from the oil and gas industry say the federal rules go too far in regulating a practice that's behind much of the boom in domestic energy production. Others insist the new rules don't go far enough. NPR's Scott Horsley reports. SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: To say the new fracking rules are controversial is an understatement. The administration spent four years studying the issue. During that time, more than one and a half million people weighed in. In announcing the regulations this morning, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell tried to assure people on all sides they'd been heard. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) SALLY JEWELL: Let me start off by saying I'm an avid conservationist, and I began my career as a petroleum engineer. Many of you know I've personally fracked wells, so I understand the risks as well as the rewards. HORSLEY: Jewell says the new rules are designed to balance those risks and rewards. Fracking will continue on public lands, but oil and gas companies will have to take additional steps to ensure the integrity of their wells, be more careful about storing the liquid waste fracking produces and provide more information to the public about the chemicals they're using. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) JEWELL: This rule will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources. That's good for the public; that's good for industry; it's good government. HORSLEY: Republicans in Congress blasted the new rules as costly and unnecessary. So did the oil and gas industry. ERIK MILITO: Our concern is this is going to stifle the progress we're making as a new global energy superpower. HORSLEY: Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute says fracking on federal land is already adequately regulated by the states. He complains the new federal rules are part of a deliberate campaign by the administration to choke off oil and gas production on federal lands, even as output is booming elsewhere around the country. MILITO: We've seen the number of permits go down. We've seen the number of wells go down. We've seen production go down. This is important for American consumers. HORSLEY: The new rules don't affect the vast majority of fracking in the U.S., only the 11 percent that occurs on public or Indian land. Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity argues regulators were too timid in crafting the new rule. KASSIE SIEGEL: It doesn't even scratch the surface of the threat to our air, water, health and wildlands. HORSLEY: Siegel wanted fracking on public lands outlawed altogether. SIEGEL: The rule includes enormous loopholes - that the oil industry can drive the frack trucks right through. HORSLEY: For example, drilling companies can get around telling the public what chemicals they're using if they say that's a trade secret. The new rules take effect in about 90 days. Environmentalists say they're studying their legal options. Meanwhile, some oil and gas producers have already filed a lawsuit in Wyoming seeking to overturn the rules. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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