In its first update of hydraulic fracturing regulations in three decades, 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.
But environmental groups expressed 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.
The regulations 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.”
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.
“These rules protect industry, not people,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They are riddled with gaping holes that endanger clean, safe drinking water supplies for millions of Americans nationwide.” She added that “this draft is a blueprint for business-as-usual industrialization of our landscapes.”
Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute criticized the department for not simply leaving regulation to state agencies. “While changes to the proposed rule attempt to better acknowledge the state role, BLM has yet to answer the question why BLM is moving forward with these requirements in the first place,” said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream operations.
In a conference call, 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 that “date back to the Sony Walkman and Atari video game.” 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.