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Transparency ordered in public-land fracking

The Obama administration said Friday it will for the first time require companies drilling for oil and natural gas on public and Indian lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.

The proposed "fracking" rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the long-awaited rules will allow continued expansion of drilling while protecting public health and safety.

"As we continue to offer millions of acres of America's public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place," Salazar said.

The proposed rules will "modernize our management of well-stimulation activities, including hydraulic fracturing, to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices," he said.

The new rules, which have been under consideration for a year and a half, were softened after industry groups expressed strong concerns about an initial proposal leaked earlier this year. The proposal would allow companies to file disclosure reports after drilling operations are completed, rather than before they begin, as initially proposed. Industry groups said the earlier proposal could have caused lengthy delays.

Some environmental groups criticized the change as a cave-in to industry, but Salazar said the rules were never intended to cause delays, but to ensure that the public is "fully aware of the chemicals that are being injected into the underground" by companies seeking to produce oil and natural gas.

The rules would not affect drilling on private land, where the bulk of shale exploration is taking place. A nationwide drilling boom in formations such as the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian region and the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana, as well as in traditional production states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, has led to 10-year lows in natural gas prices.

Still, Salazar said he hopes the new rules could be used as a model for state regulators. Fracking with horizontal drilling is currently banned in New York, but state regulators are drafting regulations and may allow it.