An updated fracking rule proposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week maintains a number of requirements from a previous draft—including that well operators should disclose all chemicals used in fracturing activities on public lands—but it will improve integration with state and tribal standards and increase compliance flexibility, the agency said.
The updated draft rule follows an initial rule proposed in May last year and takes into account nearly 177,000 public comments. The BLM said the new proposed rule, like the initial rule, calls on operators to improve assurances of well-bore integrity to verify that fluids used during fracturing operations are not contaminating groundwater, and it mandates that operators should have a water management plan in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface.
But “[t]he new proposal maintains important safety standards, improves integration with existing state and tribal standards, and increases flexibility for oil and gas developers,” the BLM said. The updated draft proposal will be subject to a new 30-day public comment period.
The bureau notes that about 90% of wells drilled on federal and Indian lands use hydraulic fracturing. Current rules governing fracking operations on public lands are more than three decades old, however, and “were not written to address modern hydraulic fracturing activities,” it said. “The revised proposed rule will modernize BLM’s management of hydraulic fracturing operations, and help to establish baseline environmental safeguards for these operations across all public and Indian lands.”
A supplemental proposal also released last week revises the array of tools operators can use to show that water is being protected and provides more guidance on trade secret disclosure. The BLM said it was seeking comments on the costs and benefits of requiring flowback fluids to only be stored in closed tanks.
Industry groups have lambasted the new rule because they say it duplicates efforts by states to regulate fracking activities. Echoing concerns by a number of environmental groups, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on Friday noted that the rule represents a “level of progress compared to sorely outdated rules” but said it has “significant failings,” including those related to well integrity.
“The rule takes steps in the right direction, but it doesn’t include nearly the level of detail necessary to ensure casing is set where it’s needed,” said Matt Watson, EDF’s national director of State Programs for Natural Gas in an e-mailed statement. The rule also “falls short on chemical disclosure,” he said, even though he lauded the BLM for requiring, as many states do, that operators disclose all chemicals used in fracturing fluids (not just those subject to federal health and safety reporting). “But the proposal is far too weak on trade secrets. For the public to have confidence trade secret protections aren’t being abused, there needs to be a clear path for challenging trade secret assertions and policing the system,” he said.
Sources: POWERnews, BLM, EDF
—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)
NOTE: This story was originally published on May 21