BLM rule requires frack-fluid disclosure
The Bureau of Land Management is requiring public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing under a new rule that was immediately challenged in court by oil and gas industry groups.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Friday unveiled an overhaul of federal well-drilling regulations that are more than three decades old.
Other measures include:
■Higher standards for recovered waste fluids from fracking to better protect air, water and wildlife, including a requirement that interim storage of wastewater occur in above-ground tanks rather than lined pits, with limited exceptions;
■Provisions aimed at ensuring the physical integrity of wells, with strong cement barriers between the wellbore and groundwater zones;
■A requirement that companies submit more information on the geology, depth and location of pre-existing wells to help the BLM prevent cross-contamination involving existing wells when new ones are drilled and fracked nearby. Such a concern arose in late 2013 when an old, nonproducing Maralex Resources well began leaking on BLM land outside De Beque after Black Hills Exploration & Production drilled and fracked a horizontal well that passed within a few hundred feet of it.
Jewell said in a news release, “This updated and strengthened rule provides a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources. As we continue to offer millions of acres of public lands for conventional and renewable energy production, it is absolutely critical the public have confidence that transparent and effective safety and environmental protections are in place.”
Colorado already has a fracking disclosure requirement, and its oil and gas rules extend to wells on federal lands and/or involving federal leases. The new federal rule lets states and tribes request variances from provisions where they have equal or more protective regulations in place.
Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in the federal news release, “This rule will protect public health and the environment during and after hydraulic fracturing operations at a modest cost while both respecting the work previously done by the industry, the states and the tribes and promoting the adoption of more protective standards across the country.
“It will be implemented in the most efficient way possible to avoid duplication or unnecessary activities by industry, other regulators, or BLM staff.”
Immediately after the rule’s release Friday morning, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance said they have sued Jewell and the BLM in federal district court in Wyoming to challenge the rules. In a news release, they said their suit calls the rules “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns.”
The groups say the government failed to provide the factual, scientific or engineering evidence justifying its action.
“States have an outstanding record of protecting the environment and safeguarding the public. This new rule is simply another regulatory overreach by the Obama administration that will hurt America’s oil and natural gas producers,” they said in the release.
Barry Russell, president and chief executive officer of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in the release, “At a time when the oil and natural gas industry faces incredible cost uncertainties, these so-called baseline standards will threaten America’s economic upturn and further deter oil and natural gas development on federal lands.”
The BLM estimates the rule will cost less than a fourth of a percent of the cost of drilling a new well. The federal Energy Information Administration says it now costs $5.4 million to drill an average well.
The rule is scheduled to take effect in 90 days.
The government says there are more than 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally managed lands, and more than 90 percent of wells being drilled today use hydraulic fracturing. The fracking process typically involves injection of water and chemicals into a well under high pressure to crack open geological formations and foster oil and gas flow.
The BLM received more than 1.5 million comments before finalizing the rule.
Lauren Pagel, policy director for the Earthworks environmental group, credited the rule for steps including the waste pit ban and requiring integrity testing of every well to help prevent pollution.
“But, in other important ways this rule falls short of what is needed to protect communities and the environment and continues the Obama administration’s pattern of prioritizing fossil fuel extraction over clean energy development and people’s health,” Pagel said in a statement.
But U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said the rule will deny local western communities economic opportunities because costs that the BLM has underestimated will hamper drilling on federal lands.
“The administration is once again clandestinely picking winners and losers, and this rule is aimed squarely at the West,” he said in a prepared statement.
Said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., “I have always supported effective, responsible regulations that keep our environment safe while allowing our economy to thrive. Colorado already has many such regulations on the books. This rule is an unnecessary burden on Colorado energy development.”
As with Colorado’s disclosure rule, the federal one doesn’t require disclosure of chemicals until after fracking occurs. Bob LaResche, chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, expressed disappointment that the BLM didn’t require disclosure before fracking “so landowners can detect changes in their water caused by fracking.”
The rule allows for some exemptions from disclosure to protect trade secrets, but LaResche said the BLM appears to have followed Wyoming’s lead in limiting the ability to invoke that exemption, something that state did to settle a citizen lawsuit.