BLM delays fracking fluid disclosure rules

A controversial Bureau of Land Management plan to require public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluid contents has been pushed back until next year.

The agency had planned to finalize new rules by year’s end but now is saying it needs more time to analyze 170,000 public comments on them.

The proposal also includes measures designed to keep fracturing fluids from escaping along well bores, and to ensure their safe handling on the surface.

A letter signed by 43 members of the U.S. House of Representatives was sent Nov. 30 to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, contending the rules could violate state water laws by giving the BLM veto authority over water use. Rep. Cory Gardner was the letter’s principal author and it also was signed by fellow Coloradan Republicans Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman.

Interior and BLM spokespeople have not specifically addressed those concerns, or whether they contributed to the delay, but have called the rules common-sense and flexible ones that involve practices many energy companies already use.

“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,” Interior spokesman Blake Androff said.

The Colorado Water Congress, which calls itself the principal voice of Colorado’s water community, also recently voiced concerns to the Interior Department. It wrote that it is worried that fracking mitigations the BLM might require “could include restrictions on certain water sources, requirements to dedicate water to the BLM or related issues.”

Amy Mall, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, has called the water concerns meritless and “a red herring.” She said while it’s important to get new protections in place soon, she’s hoping the extra time being taken will result in even stronger rules being put in place.

The rules would apply not just on BLM lands, but on national forests, where the BLM administers oil and gas development, and on private lands where underlying minerals are federally owned.

By mutual agreement, Colorado’s new fracking disclosure rules already apply in areas of BLM jurisdiction, but the BLM also is proposing things such as requiring preapproval of fracturing operations.

“Governor (John) Hickenlooper and the state of Colorado have done a good job of monitoring fracking and ensuring it’s done safely, and Rep. Tipton is confident that they can continue to do this without adding more government to the equation,” Tipton spokesman Josh Green said.

Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance industry group says the rules could result in a “huge cost” to companies, easily totaling $250,000 per well, and could delay permit times by 100 days.


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