While there are 35 states with some form of fracking regulations (Colorado included), there is currently no federal requirement for oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals on federal lands where approximately 90 percent of natural gas wells are drilled. Current Bureau of Land Management regulations governing fracking are more than 30 years old and are not written to address modern fracking practices.
The proposed rule, according to information provided by the Department of Interior, seeks to maximize flexibility, minimize duplication and complement ongoing efforts in some states to regulate fracturing activities by providing a consistent standard across all federal and Indian lands, and make reported information easily accessible to the public through the existing program known as FracFocus.
Besides requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, the draft rule contains two additional measures to improve assurances on well-bore integrity – to verify that fluids used in wells during fracking operations are not escaping – and to confirm that oil and gas companies have a water management plan in place for handling fracking fluids that flow back to the surface.
According to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the proposed rule will strengthen the requirements for hydraulic fracturing performed on federal and Indian lands in order to build public confidence and protect the health of American communities, while ensuring continued access to the important resources that make up our energy economy.
“As the President has made clear, this administration’s energy strategy is an all-out effort to boost American production of every available source of energy,” Salazar stated in the May 4 announcement. “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place. The proposed rule will modernize our management of well stimulation activities – including hydraulic fracturing – to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices.”
In Colorado, a similar rule took effect April 1. Gov. John Hickenlooper applauded this latest move by the Department of Interior.
“We are pleased that the Bureau of Land Management modeled its disclosure requirements for fracturing fluids after the Colorado rule, which is the most protective and transparent in the country as it requires the disclosure of the chemicals as well as their purpose and concentrations,” Hickenlooper said.
So far representatives of the oil and gas industry aren’t sold on the regulation, as they believe state regulations are already enough and are concerned about provisions that may duplicate Colorado’s regulatory system.
“While we are encouraged that BLM has seen fit to attempt to integrate their disclosure requirements with HYPERLINK "http://FracFocus.org/"FracFocus.org, the chemical registry website managed by the Ground Water Protection Council, we are concerned about provisions that may duplicate or conflict with Colorado’s rigorous and successful regulatory system,” said Tisha Schuller, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “As production data verifies, producers are struggling to obtain permits on federal lands in a timely manner. We are concerned that this rule will add an unnecessary layer to an already cumbersome regulatory process. For operations in Colorado, we do not see any value in a new federal regulation redundant with our state procedures.”
For Gwen Lachelt, the director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project based in Durango, there are still some questions as to whether or not the draft rule goes far enough.
“We are pleased that the BLM has come out with an updated oil and gas rule,” Lachelt said. “The new rule in a nutshell is certainly an improvement but we don’t think it goes nearly far enough and hope the BLM during its public comment period will seriously consider the comments they receive.”
One concern, for example, is that the draft rule requires oil and gas companies to disclose the fracking chemicals 30 days after they are used.
“That doesn’t really give communities and landowners what they need to know in regards to what a company intends to use,” she said. “People should be able to test their water wells ahead of time and should these chemicals show up in their water, the burden of proof will be on the company and not on the landowner. That is a major concern.”
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will begin, during which the public, governments, industry and other stakeholders are encouraged to provide their input.
The proposed rule would apply to BLM-managed mineral estate, including 700 million subsurface acres of federal estate and 56 million subsurface acres of Indian mineral estate. The draft rule can be found online at doi.gov/news/pressreleases/.
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