A new proposal to update 30-year-old regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands is being criticized by environmental and industry groups.
The Dept. of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on May 16 released a draft proposal that modifies an initial draft proposal from 2012. The newly released draft is a response to feedback from more than 177,000 public comments to the 2012 draft.
Approximately 90% of wells drilled on federal and American Indian lands use hydraulic fracturing, but the BLM’s current regulations for hydofracking are more than 30 years old and do not take into account modern fracking activities, the BLM says. “We are proposing some common-sense updates that increase safety while providing flexibility and facilitating coordination with states and tribes,” Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement.
The updated draft proposal maintains the three main components of the initial proposal: requiring operators to disclose the chemicals they use in fracturing activities; improving assurances of well-bore integrity to verify that fluids used during fracking are not contaminating groundwater; and confirming that oil and gas operators have a water management plan in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface.
The supplemental proposal revises the tools operators can use to show that water is being protected and provides more guidance on trade-secret disclosures while providing more flexibility for meeting these objectives.
But environmental groups say the proposal does not go far enough to protect the environment. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement, “Although no amount of regulation will making fracking acceptable, the proposed BLM rules fail even to take obvious steps to make it safer.” For example, operators are not required to disclose all the chemicals used for fracking, and the proposal does not require baseline water testing or setback requirements to govern how close drilling can be to homes, Brune said. Moreover, the proposal continues to allow open pits for storing wastewater, which Brune said is a practice “we know to be environmentally hazardous.”
Trevor Kinkaid, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a non-partisan environmental group, contends that although the proposal is “a needed step” toward improving safety, “unfortunately, oil-industry lobbyists were granted disproportionate access to the officials, resulting in the watering down of key sections of the rules.”
However, industry groups question whether federal regulations from the BLM are even needed. Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s director of upstream and industry operations, says “rigorous” state rules and state-based tools, such as FracFocus.org, are already in place to ensure responsible oil and natural-gas development.
“States have led the way in regulating hydraulic-fracturing operations while protecting communities and the environment for decades. While changes to the proposed rule attempt to better acknowledge the state role, BLM has yet to answer the question [of] why BLM is moving forward with these requirements in the first place,” he said.