Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hit back against criticism to her department’s recently announced rules on hydraulic fracturing on public lands Thursday, saying that the rules were a needed update to the former set of regulations.
Speaking to press after an event at the Center for American Progress, Jewell said that the rules’ treatment of wastewater disposal and chemical disclosure in fracking projects on public lands are important for public safety.
“It’s been four or five years in the making,” she said, adding that the department had made adjustments to the regulations based on the 1.7 million comments they got on the proposed rules. “It’s really important that the public be reassured that groundwater is protected, that frack fluids are disclosed in terms of whats in them, and their disposed of properly.”
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management announced its final rules for fracking on public lands in March, regulations that will require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use when fracking on protected lands and prohibit the companies from storing wastewater in open pits on these lands. Some environmental groups had wanted to rules to go further in protecting public lands from oil and gas development, however — a group of five large groups called the regulations “toothless.”
Jewell also said Thursday that though it’s her agency’s job to ensure that the regulations put in place protect the public, the oil and gas industry also has a role to play in educating the public about their practices.
“If the public is concerned, it is the job of industry to reassure the public,” she said. “Industry should be talking about their practices and how they can reassure the public so that there aren’t ongoing concerns. I believe there is a lot of misinformation — again it’s industry’s job to express that. We do understand it and we we’ve come out with regulations that we think strike the right balance.”
During her panel at CAP, which focused on the jobs and revenue that national parks and other protected lands bring to the U.S., Jewell also clarified why fracking and drilling on public lands is something the Interior Department allows, even as it supports administration efforts to combat climate change.
“How many of you burned no fossil fuels today? Nobody of course…the reality is we are an economy that is dependent on fossil fuels, and the federal state is an important source of resources for us,” she said. “We could easily argue that we’d rather produce those resources domestically than produce them overseas.”
Fracking, drilling, and coal leasing on public lands have been the topic of environmental scrutiny in recent years. According to a CAP and Wilderness Society report from last month, gas, oil, and coal taken from federal lands and waters account for more than one-fifth of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
“The DOI has yet to develop a plan to accurately account for, manage, and mitigate the GHG pollution that results from the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels from public lands and waters,” the report states, adding that emissions from public lands have been “explicitly left out” from government reports on greenhouse gas emissions in the past.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are expected this summer — rules that have already been criticized by environmentalists for not going far enough — and the Bureau of Land Management is also working to draft rules on flaring from oil and gas operations on public lands.
Jewell said Thursday that the U.S. has a long way to go to slow or stop the development of fossil fuels.
“Until people stop burning fossil fuels, we’re not going to be able to get away from using them,” she said. “And I think we can facilitate smarter development, lower footprint, more efficiency, but it’s going to take a major effort and continued incentives to drive us toward more renewables and away from fossil fuels.”
Jewell, who comes from an oil and gas industry and business background, has stressed before the need to balance energy development — even on public lands — with addressing climate change. In a speech last month, Jewell said that her department should do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and said that new energy development on public land should be balanced with new land and water protection.
“My responsibility to my grandchildren’s generation is at the top of my mind with every decision we make,” she said. “[T]hat is why we must — we must — do more to cut greenhouse gas pollution that is warming our planet.”