By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has delayed finalizing rules that expand its oversight of natural gas drilling on public lands because officials must evaluate a torrent of public comment on the proposals, the Obama administration said on Tuesday.
The administration hopes U.S. states will eventually use the rules governing fracking on federal lands as a template for their own oversight.
"In order to ensure that the 170,000 comments received are properly analyzed, the Bureau of Land Management expects action on the fracking proposal in the new year," said Blake Androff, an Interior Department spokesman.
The administration had earlier said it would finalize the rules by the end of 2012.
The Interior Department unveiled draft regulations in early May that would require companies to get approval before using hydraulic fracturing and to reveal the chemicals they used in the process after they finish drilling.
The rules would not affect drilling on private lands, where most fracking takes place, but the administration has said it hopes the regulations will provide a template for state drilling laws.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting a cocktail of sand, water and chemicals underground to extract fuel.
Advances in the drilling technique have unlocked vast reserves of shale gas in the United States but environmentalists have raised concerns that the process is polluting water and air, among other things.
Industry groups have argued that these complaints are unfounded and said the government's proposal adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to already sufficient state regulations.
Still, some lawmakers and green groups said Interior's proposed rules were not stringent enough. They urged the department to require the disclosure of chemicals to be used in fracking before drilling takes place.
(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by David Gregorio)