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September 18, 2013
Governors prefer state fracking regs

Members of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) are holding out hope that the Department of Interior (DOI) will engage with governors of Western states on the need and/or scope of federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing on public land in the West. 

The sentiment was contained in a letter WGA sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in response to the May 2013 issuance by DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of a revised proposal to establish “commonsense safety standards” for fracking on BLM-managed western lands.


According to the letter, which was signed by governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Western governors believe it would be fiscally and regulatorily responsible to leverage existing state programs instead of imposing a single federal rule. 

Chemical disclosure

The BLM has noted that approximately 90 percent of wells drilled on federal and Indian lands use fracking, but current BLM regulations covering the practice are more than 30 years old and were not written to address modern fracking activities.  

As with its predecessor proposal, which was released in May 2012, the updated proposal has three main components:

  1. Requiring operators to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking on public land;
  2. Improving assurances of well-bore integrity to verify that fluids used during fracking are not contaminating groundwater; and
  3. Confirming that oil and gas operators have a water management plan in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface. 

Based on 177,000 comments the initial proposal prompted and other feedback received during forums and meetings, the BLM says the second draft revised “the array of tools operators may use to show that water is being protected and provides more guidance on trade secret disclosure while providing additional flexibility for meeting these objectives.”

‘Profound differences’

But Hickenlooper and Sandoval point out that the “profound differences” in geology, ecology, hydrology, and meteorology across Western states highlight the inappropriateness of a single federal rule intended to cover all. 

“It is important to underscore that state regulatory programs have been thoughtfully designed by experts to address state-specific issues and factors,” write the governors.  “Importantly, the states have greater flexibility to respond to new information and modify or update their rules, as they have demonstrated in recent years, and to respond to continuous improvement of both technologies and best practices.”

The letter states that while the BLM has “repeatedly indicated its intention to work with the states, there has never been a formal consultation with our state regulators, and we would welcome the opportunity to engage in a dialogue whereby we can demonstrate the effectiveness of our regulations.  Although such a dialogue would have been preferable before the BLM considered any new rulemaking, it still may be possible as part of any MOU process with the states.”   

The WGA letter

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