Friday, May 17, 2013

Interior Department Bureau of Land Management Issues Draft Fracking Rule

Under proposed fracking rules, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management would require wider disclosure of chemicals used in drilling. It would also require that companies have a water-management plan for fluids that flow back to the surface and take steps to assure wellbore integrity and prevent toxic fluids from leaking into groundwater.

Most environmentalists contend that the new draft provided weaker water protections than a version the Interior Department proposed a year ago.  Environmental groups are disappointment that the regulations do not include a ban on the storage of waste fluids in open, lined pits. They also want complete disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, which the regulations would not require.

Oil industry groups want the regulation left in the hands of states and are opposed to any federal rules. Companies could also use affidavits to assert trade-secret protection of certain chemicals, although the BLM would keep the authority to require disclosure “if necessary,” the department said.
The proposed regulations were also revised to allow companies to test the integrity of cement barriers in one well and then use the results to guide the development of similar wells. The American Petroleum Institute criticized the department for not simply leaving regulation to state agencies.

The reegulations would allow companies to disclose the chemicals to FracFocus, an Oklahoma-based Web site that has been criticized for its ties to industry. A Harvard Law School study concluded that FracFocus was not effective and “does not serve the interests of the public.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who as a petroleum engineer used hydraulic fracturing while drilling
oil and gas wells in the 1970s, called the proposals “common-sense updates” of regulations. She called fracking “an essential tool” but said it should not be left to a “patchwork” of state regulations.
The department said that about 90 percent of the oil and gas wells drilled on federal and Indian lands used hydraulic fracturing, a technique that unlocks oil and gas from shale rock by creating small fissures for oil and gas to flow.

The BLM estimated that the total annual cost of the regulations would range from $12 million to $20 million, down from $37 million to $44 million for the original proposal. When spread over all hydraulically fractured wells on federal and Indian lands, the annual costs would average no more than $5,100 a well, according to the BLM.

The public still has 30 days to comment on the second draft of the rules, and officials said they were particularly interested in comments about whether to require storage of waste fluids in closed tanks instead of open pits. The first draft of the regulations, issued a year ago, drew about 177,000 comments. (Wash Post, 5/16/2013)

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