Jewell: ‘When I Fracked a Well’

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Sally Jewell, while the nominee for U.S. Interior secretary, speaks at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2013

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell may have come to Washington by way of REI, the outdoorsmen’s and women’s adventure outfitter, yet she has some bona fides in oil engineering.

She put that resume to use today, swatting aside some industry talking points.

Appearing before the House Natural Resources committee, Jewell faced criticism from Republican lawmakers arguing that the department’s proposed rule to govern fracking on public lands will cause unnecessary delays.

Fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are shot underground to break apart deep rocks and free trapped gas, has soared in recent years as new technologies have opened up more and deeper resources of oil and gas. Interior’s rules would establish minimum standards for well construction, disclosure of chemicals and water management when fracking is used on federal lands.

Isn’t it true that there have been no confirmed cases of water contamination from fracking? Republican John Fleming asked Jewell.

“None that I’m aware of,” Jewell said. Still, there have been issues with the contaminated water that flows back after a frack job, or when a well is not adequately drilled, cemented or cased, she added.

Separately, she was told that state regulators best know heir local geology, and so the federal government should leave the regulation to them.

Not quite, she responded: “The states vary in their understanding of hydraulic fracturing.”

Some states, such as Wyoming, have strong rules, she said, while “in many cases, the state rules don’t exist or are out of date.” Further, no matter where a well is drilled and fracked, she said, “having well-bore integrity is essential.”

Jewell, who was president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. before joining President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, also drew on her past experience to answer criticism from Democrat Alan Lowenthal of California, who complained that the Interior proposal relies on the independent FracFocus for disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.

“When I fracked a well, we used guar,” she said of a gum grown in India. Describing her discussions at an industry conference earlier this year, she said that as industry representatives pointed out the organic materials in their modern fracking fluids,  she asked them why they couldn’t disclose all of the components.

FracFocus “is imperfect, but it’s being updated,” she concluded. If it’s not providing adequate disclosure, “we will look for other ways to do it.”


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