The Obama administration announced Friday new rules on hydraulic fracking, the contentious process behind the U.S. natural gas boom.
The rules, issued by the Interior Department, include new standards for the construction of wells and the disposal of waste water in fracking conducted on federal land.
“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “This updated and strengthened rule provides a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources.”
Fracking – the process of injecting water and chemicals into the earth to open access to underground natural gas stores – has been highly controversial for its perceived danger to the environment. Opponents contend the chemicals used in fracking end up polluting drinking water supplies and say the practice could even cause earthquakes.
But the process has driven U.S. energy production to new highs – between 2005 and 2014, the amount of natural gas extracted in the U.S. increased by 8 million cubic feet.
Republicans downplay the environmental risks of fracking, touting its potential to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources and its ability to create jobs.
Reaction to the new rules was predictably split — energy groups claimed the regulations will hamper the energy boom that Obama himself often touts in his speeches; environmental groups (some of which support an outright ban on fracking) said the rules don’t go far enough.
“This rule is just one more barrier to growth,” said the American Petroleum Institute’s Erik Milito. “Increased production and use of natural gas has helped cut U.S. carbon emissions to a nearly 20-year low, and this decision only stands in the way of further progress, hampering natural gas development on federal lands.”
The fracking rules are the latest in an series of rules enacted by the Obama administration that seek to regulate processes believed to be environmentally harmful, including new regulations unveiled last year curbing carbon emissions from power plants.