In its proposed revisions to federal regulations covering hydraulic fracturing or fracking on federal and Indian land, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says that one of its “key goals” is to complement efforts by states such as Texas and Wyoming that have already established rules to ensure that the practice does not contaminate groundwater or lead to other forms environmental degradation.
Response to that assertion has been mixed. Industry says that the one-size-fits-all federal approach will conflict with the more region-specific programs of states. Environmentalists complain that BLM’s proposal is only good start only since it fails to achieve the same level of protection instituted by some states.
BLM has attempted to address those concerns by stating in its proposal that it intends to “implement on public lands whichever rules, state or federal, are most protective of federal lands and resources and the environment.” Both industry and environmentalist will probably need to wait for a final rule to see how BLM will attempt to resolve potential state-federal conflicts.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, proppants (such as sand), and chemical additives into rock formations to stimulate the recovery of oil and gas. While water and sand comprise 98 to 99 percent of materials pumped into wells, the major concern about the practice is the chemical additives, which some in the environmental community believe have a high potential to adversely impact public health and the environment. Many energy companies that use fracking have refused to voluntarily disclose the identity of some or all of these additives, which they claim as confidential business information (CBI). BLM’s proposal would allow non-disclosure of CBI provided operators can substantiate the need for the protection to BLM’s satisfaction. If BLM determines that the information is not protected by federal law, it would provide the well operator 10 days notice before making it available to the public.
The proposal would amend existing fracking regulations at 43 CFR 3162.3.2 and add the following provisions:
- Disclose well stimulation fluids after the fracking operation is complete.
- Require that mechanical integrity tests be conducted before well stimulation and require full reporting of the results of the well stimulation activity within 30 days of its completion.
- Allow BLM’s authorized officer to grant a variance to specific conditions if the operator can demonstrate that alternative procedures would meet or exceed the intent of the minimum standards of the rule.
BLM states that the proposal is consistent with the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) guidelines for well construction and well integrity (API Guidance Document HF 1, Hydraulic Fracturing Operations—Well Construction and Integrity Guidelines, First Edition, October 2009).
API itself indicates that “constructive changes” have been made to existing regulations, but still believes that BLM should exercise deference to “robust and comprehensive state regulations that already exist.”
API has supported FracFocus.org, which is run by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission. The site was created to provide the public access to voluntarily reported chemicals used for fracking. BLM says it working the Ground Water Protection Council to determine whether disclosure that would be required under the proposal can be integrated into FracFocus.org.
BLM’s prepublication proposal on fracking is at http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=293916.