Wyoming groups, governor laud fracking rules delay

2012-06-26T23:45:00Z Wyoming groups, governor laud fracking rules delayBy JEREMY FUGLEBERG Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming's governor, its oil and gas industry, a key legislator and a conservation group in the state agree on at least one thing: A federal decision to delay rules for hydraulic fracturing is a good thing.

They lauded the Obama administration's decision this week to extend the public comment period for regulation of the practice, a critical method used in nearly all oil and natural gas wells drilled on federal and Indian lands.

Calling the administration's proposal a "major rule change," Petroleum Association of Wyoming President Bruce Hinchey said the decision to allow comments until Sept. 10 will give the industry a chance to closely review the rules.

"I think it's worthwhile for them to step back and allow an additional time for not only companies and associations but state oil and gas regulatory people to be able to look at it a little closer," said Hinchey.

The Petroleum Association, Gov. Matt Mead and legislators on a key committee have said they're concerned the federal rules would duplicate Wyoming's first-in-the-nation rules for the practice, also known as fracking, and they say they're worried about potential costs to the industry and the state.

The state officials, the trade group and the Wyoming County Commissioners' Association sent letters to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar or Bureau of Land Management officials requesting a three-month review to allow for more time to determine the rules' costs.

An analysis of the economic impact of the rules indicated they could cost the industry more than $1.5 billion, and it wasn't yet clear what that would mean for the Wyoming economy, said Mead in an emailed statement.

"I thank Secretary Salazar and the BLM for granting this extension," said Mead. "The agency should not rush this rule, because right now it would be a burden in states like Wyoming where we already have regulations for natural gas drilling and have had those rules in place for many years."

Instead of the requested three-month extension, federal officials opened the comments for only two months. But the co-chairman of the state Legislature's Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee says he's pleased with the additional time.

"I think in these kinds of decisions, I don't think it's a delay to stop," said Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton. "It's a delay to make good comments -- to make a decision on good science, on valid comments -- instead of a knee-jerk reaction to other things."

The additional months will also give those who want the rules tightened more time to weigh in, said Jill Morrison, an organizer with the Wyoming-based conservation group Powder River Basin Resource Council.

The extension for public comment could be a good thing, allowing the public to advocate for more stringent rules, she said.

The federal rules should be straightforward and not require duplication of work, she said, but they have troubling weaknesses. The council wants the rules to require stricter testing and casing of wells, better notice of fracking chemicals and baseline testing of water wells near prospective drilling sites, she said.

"There's got to be some careful thought put into this," she said.

Fracking, in which operators use water, sand and chemicals to force open pathways for oil and gas to flow, is a key component of most natural gas wells in Wyoming. But its expanded use in the state and elsewhere has raised global concerns it could pollute water supplies.

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