Energy: BLM eyes new rules for fracking on public lands

BLM wants to update 30-year-old fracking regs.

Common sense steps address some environmental and health concerns

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — An updated set of draft rules for fracking on public and Indian lands includes several common-sense safeguards that will help protect the human health and safety, as well as the environment. For starters, the rule requires disclosure of the chemicals used for fracking, a key measure that ensures transparency and gives the public some assurance.

The proposed rule beefs up standards meant to insure well bore-integrity, which will help verify that fluids used during fracturing operations are not contaminating groundwater. Operators must also have a plan in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface.

About 90 percent of wells drilled on Federal and Indian lands use hydraulic fracturing, but the Bureau of Land Management’s current regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands are more than 30 years old and were not written to address modern hydraulic fracturing activities.

The latest draft rule also includes more detailed guidance on how trade secrets claims will be handled, modeled on procedures used in Colorado.

The proposal includes a variance process that allows for deferring to states and tribes that already have standards in place that meet or exceed those proposed by this rule. To view the updated draft proposal, click here.

Release of the first draft in 2012 spurred more than 170,000 public comments that helped inform today’s updated draft proposal. The updated draft proposal will be subject to a new 30-day public comment period.

“As the President has made clear, this administration’s priority is to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production. In line with that goal, we are proposing some commonsense updates that increase safety while also providing flexibility and facilitating coordination with states and tribes,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.  “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is important that the public has full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place.”

“We know from experience that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling methods can be used safely and effectively, employing many of the best management practices reflected in this draft rule,” said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze.  “Our thorough review of all the comments convinced us that we could maintain a strong level of protection of health, safety, and the environment while allowing for increased flexibility and reduced regulatory duplication.”

The BLM’s proposed rule drew both praise and scathing criticism.

“By continuing to push this rule, the BLM has acknowledged that fracking operations are directly impacting communities across the country, including those in my district,” said U.S. Rep. JaredPolis (D-CO). “While there is a great deal of room for improvement, the BLM’s efforts to increase its oversight of natural gas extraction on public lands is a step forward. In particular, the well casing requirements will reduce instances of gas leaks in groundwater and will better protect our precious water resources from contamination from fracking fluids,” Polis said. “As a lead sponsor of the FRAC Act, I have long advocated for greater disclosure requirements and I hope that the BLM ultimately advances a rule that better mandates such requirements so citizens will know what chemicals are in their water. While this rule is a step in the right direction, I will be working to ensure my constituents’ voices are heard as the BLM begins its 30-day public comment process on this rule.”

The proposed rule drew predictable criticism from the fossil fuel industry, which has long opposed what it calls a one-size-fits-all national rule. The Western Energy Alliance said the BLM is adding an unneeded later of federal regulation that will divert productive resources away from energy development, job creation, and economic growth into redundant federal compliance, further disadvantaging western public lands states.

 “States have been successfully regulating fracing for decades, including on federal lands, with no incident of contamination that would necessitate redundant federal regulation,” said Kathleen Sgamma VP of government and public affairs for Western Energy Alliance. “While the current rule is better than the first impractical rule, DOI still has not justified the rule from an economic or scientific point of view.  It continues to second guess states and tribes, and will hurt job creation and economic growth in western communities.”




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