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June 04, 2013
BLM revises fracking proposal

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a revised proposal on how it plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on 700 million subsurface acres of federal mineral estate and 56 million subsurface acres of Indian mineral estate.

This action follows a proposal to revise existing fracking regulations for public and Indian lands that the BLM published in May 2012.  Over 177,000 public comments were submitted on that action, says the BLM, which concluded that a revised proposal was in order.  The revision addresses three pivotal aspects of fracking: intersection of state and federal regulations, public disclosure of fracking chemicals, and integrity of the cement used in fracking wells. 

Critical improvements

The BLM is at the center of a national debate on the benefits and risks of fracking on public and Indian land.  President Obama has included fracking in his all-of-the-above strategy for domestic energy development.  At the same time, the administration is listening to warnings from environmental and public welfare groups that fracking chemicals and the generation of flowback (fluids that return to the surface during and after fracking operations) may endanger sources of public drinking water. 

According to the BLM, the revised proposal refines the “critical improvements” to existing BLM regulations for fracking that were addressed in the May 2012 action.   Some of the proposed requirements are intended to provide further assurances that the government is seeking to protect public health, while others are intended to reduce administrative burdens faced by energy companies seeking leases to develop oil and natural gas resources and public and Indian lands. 

Deference to states/tribes

The new proposal revises the 2012 action as follows:

  • A provision is included that authorizes the BLM to defer to state (on federal land) or tribal (on tribal land) designations of aquifers as either requiring protection from oil and gas operations or as exempt from any requirement to isolate water-bearing zones. 
  • Cement evaluation logs (CELs) would be required in place of the originally proposed cement bond logs (CBLs).  Logging involves the use of sonic tools to give 360-degree representations of the cement used in well casings.  The use of the broader term, CEL, is intended to allow a variety of logging methods to be used to show the adequacy of cementing, including technologies such as ultrasonic logs, variable density logs, micro-seismograms, standard CBLs, CBLs with directional receiver array, ultrasonic pulse echo technique, and isolation scanners. 
  • The proposal would no longer require operators to submit all information about chemicals to the BLM, to segregate trade secrets, and to justify the assertion of trade secret protection.  Instead, the regulations would instruct operators not to disclose trade secret information to the BLM or on FracFocus, a website used by some states for reporting mandatory chemical disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals.  Operators would submit an affidavit stating that the withheld information is entitled to withholding from the public under federal law or regulations.  The BLM would retain authority to require operators to submit the claimed trade secret information.

Also, although the BLM is not proposing a material change to the provision that allows fracking flowback fluids to be stored either in tanks or in lined pits, comments are requested on the costs and benefits of requiring flowback fluids to be stored only in closed tanks.

BLM’s revised fracking proposal was published in the May 24, 2013, FR.

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