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Signs Indicate "Imminent" Fracking Rules Even Weaker Than Before

Heavy lobbying and leaked drafts reveal likelihood of industry-friendly set of drilling guidelines

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

An anti-fracking protest at the Capitol in July 2012. (Photo: billb1961/Flickr)

As the release of an updated set of fracking guidelines appears "imminent," Politico reports that environmentalists have reason to believe that the Big Energy's fingerprints will be all over new White House rules.

“What we see is every step of the way, these rules are getting weaker,” said Fran Hunt, senior Washington representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign.

The fracking guidelines are intended to provide parameters for well construction, wastewater disposal and disclosure of the ingredients of fracking fluids. "But," writes Politico reporter Talia Buford, "the official release and the leaked versions have varied on what those provisions would entail."

The Interior Deparment released an initial draft of the rule in May 2012 but, after much criticism, the rules were recanted and a new draft was promised by the end of March.

On Thursday, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a House Appropriations subcommittee that “the rule is imminent, and I expect that my successor will be announcing it in the very near future.”

Ahead of the release, industry groups have been outgunning environmentalists in attempts to lobby those rule-makers at the White House's Office of Budget and Management. Politico reports:

Of the 10 meetings that OMB officials have held on the fracking rules since January, three have been with environmental groups such as Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters. Two have been with Native American tribes, and five have been with representatives from the oil and gas industry.

The industry representatives have come from trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, as well as companies like ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Shell, BP, Halliburton and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

Recently leaked versions of the draft indicate that officials at the OMB are listening to those industry voices.

According to Hunt, leaked drafts have exposed the exemption of acidizing, a well-stimulation process that uses acid to remove buildup from wells to help them produce more efficiently, as well as "less-stringent rules on well integrity testing and provisions that would make it easier for companies to withhold fracking chemicals as trade secrets."

“You can see that they are going in a direction that probably the industry views favorably, and we don’t,” she added. 

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