BLM gets earful on fracking proposal

The government is hearing comments ranging all the way from don’t allow hydraulic fracturing at all on federal lands, to don’t pass new rules regulating it on such lands, as it considers a proposal to do the latter.

A public comment period ended Friday on a Bureau of Land Management proposal to update drilling rules on federal lands to reflect the widespread use of modern fracking techniques in oil and gas development.

Food & Water Watch estimates that more than 1 million comments have been submitted to the White House and BLM “urging them to protect public lands from fracking.” It said a coalition of 276 environmental and consumer organizations including itself, Americans Against Fracking and 350.org have delivered President Barack Obama and the BLM nearly 650,000 public comments asking the government to outright ban fracking on such lands.

“By allowing fracking on public lands, the BLM is participating in a form of legalized corruption that pollutes our democracy and undermines the national interest,” actress and advocate Daryl Hannah said in a news release. “They are sacrificing our public lands, which they’ve been entrusted with, to the fossil fuel industry and private profits.”

Meanwhile, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance told the BLM the new rules aren’t needed, would be costly and undermine state authority.

The Department of Interior “cannot demonstrate that states are not adequately regulating or that federal regulation is more effective,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for Western Energy Alliance. “… The rule will further disadvantage the West, as development, jobs, and economic activity will continue to migrate to areas without federal lands.”

The BLM’s proposal, which it has revised from an earlier one to try to address some industry concerns, would allow for variances from the rule if state or tribal rules are as rigorous.

The BLM is proposing requiring public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. Colorado already has a fracking disclosure rule.

The proposal also includes provisions designed to try to prevent fracturing fluids from escaping along well bores and ensure they are properly handled.

Some entities, including The Wilderness Society and Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, support the BLM’s efforts but say its proposal should be strengthened. The groups say the disclosure requirement needs to apply before the fracking occurs. The Wilderness Society says that way, pre-fracturing water testing for disclosed chemicals can head off the defense that “the contamination was there before we arrived.”

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