Proposed Rules on Fracking Gain Cautious Praise

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process of shooting water, sand and chemicals underground to retrieve oil or natural gas trapped in shale rock, has made plenty of headlines in recent years. But the drilling process involves many other steps beyond breaking up rock — and several opportunities for things to go wrong.

Recognizing this, Texas’ oil and gas regulatory agency, known as the Railroad Commission, is updating its rules to address the broad process of drilling, from the drilling itself to cementing and completing an oil or gas well. The latest version of the proposed rule changes is expected this week.

So far, the commission’s work is winning qualified praise from environmentalists and some in the oil industry.

“This is the biggest overhaul of Texas well construction regulations since the 1970s,” said Scott Anderson, an Austin-based senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Debbra M. Hastings, the executive vice president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, said she expected the new rules would probably be adopted by the Railroad Commission toward the beginning of the state legislative session, which starts in January.

“We’re supportive of them moving forward right now, as long as they’re feasible and they can implement them,” Ms. Hastings said.

Careful construction of oil and gas wells is vital in preventing oil, gas or fracking-related fluids from leaking into aquifers. A study last year for the Groundwater Protection Council found that from 1993 to 2008, faulty drilling or well completion was responsible for 10 documented instances of groundwater contamination in Texas.

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