U.S. extends time for public feedback on fracking rules

WASHINGTON Fri Jun 22, 2012 5:28pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is extending by 60 days the deadline for the public to comment on a proposal expanding oversight of fracking drilling on federal lands, as both industry and environmental groups seek changes.

The Interior Department unveiled draft regulations in early May that would require companies to get approval before using fracking and to reveal the chemicals they would use in the process after they finish drilling.

"To ensure that the public and key stakeholders, including industry and public health groups, are able to provide important feedback that will help inform any final rule, Interior has decided to extend the public comment period for our commonsense draft rule," the department said in a statement.

The department will now accept comments on the rules into September, extending its initial July deadline by 60 days.

Despite the extension, the rule is still expected to be finalized later this year, an Interior official said.

Oil and gas groups have charged the rules add an unnecessary layer of regulation to already sufficient state oversight.

Governors from several heavy oil and gas drilling states including Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming also raised concerns about the rules and asked for more time for public comment.

At the same time, some environmentalists have complained that the rules do not go far enough. A group of the 38 lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday urged to Interior to require drillers to reveal the chemicals they plan to use before they start fracking.

With the federal election in November, the Obama administration has reached out more to oil and gas interests and touted its support for development of U.S. fossil fuels, attempting to combat criticism from Republicans that the White House has focused too much on renewable energy.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to extract fuel.

The drilling technique has unlocked massive shale oil and gas reserves, but also led to a backlash from environmentalists and some neighbors of drilling sites, who complain about pollution of the air and water.

Shale oil and gas drillers have strongly disputed these charges, arguing that fracking is safe and has been used for decades.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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