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Feds issue fracking rules for public lands

Companies will have to disclose the chemicals they use to force oil and gas out of the ground. But only after they extract them, not beforehand.

Kai Ryssdal: Should you have an opinion about fracking -- the controversial yet increasingly popular process of getting oil and gas out of shale -- you've got 60 days from right now to weigh in. That's the comment period for new rules the Obama administration announced today for fracking on public lands. Companies are gonna have to disclose the chemicals they pump underground to get the oil and gas out -- about which there's been relatively little comment from the industry.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: In today's announcement, the secretary of Interior praised fracking for "improving energy security." The chief oil lobby talked up "constructive changes" to the rules. And one of fracking's green enemies pronounced it "a step in the right direction." Something's in the water. Or maybe it's no big deal. Most companies already disclose the chemicals they shoot underground to get oil and gas.

Analyst Raoul LeBlanc is with PFC Energy.

Raoul LeBlanc: These rules are mostly to deal with corner cutters and laggards. Most of the leading companies, they have severe reputation risk that's already pushed them to do these kinds of things.

By one estimate, 7 in 10 companies disclose. Why? To be or to appear transparent. Or because the state they're in requires it.

Duke environmental scientist Rob Jackson thinks everyone is on the disclosure road, which could lead to safer fracking.

Rob Jackson: Full disclosure will put pressure on companies to phase out the more toxic chemicals and to find substitutes for those.

Both the states and the feds would have companies frack first and disclose later. Industry lobbied for it, and that one detail rankles Ray Biersdorfer, a geologist at Youngstown State University.

Ray Biersdorfer: I don't really know of any other industries where they're allowed to do something, and then sort of tell the regulators afterwards that this has happened.

If there is a big fracking disaster, stiffer rules or bans could follow. So watch Pavilion, Wyo. The EPA has a preliminary finding there that fracking is likely associated with contaminated drinking water.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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