Interior Releases Updated Proposal for Hydraulic Fracturing on Public, Indian Lands

ICTMN Staff
5/16/13

While roughly 90 percent of wells drilled on federal and Indian lands use hydraulic fracturing, the Bureau of Land Management’s current regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands are more than 30 years old. In 2012, the Interior released a revised proposed rule that would modernize the Bureau’s management of hydraulic fracturing operations, and help to establish baseline environmental safeguards for these operations.

Today, the Interior released an updated draft proposal. The new version takes into account more than 177,000 public comments received during the initial 120-day public comment period since the initial 2012 proposal, as well as feedback from eight forums and other meetings held with representatives of American Indian tribes. It is intended to imporve safety, increase flexibility for oil and gas developers, and meet both state and tribal standards. The public has 30 days to comment on the updated draft proposal.

Three main components are consistent between the two proposals:

-Operators are required to disclose the chemicals they use in fracturing activities on public lands.

-Operators must be able to verify that fluids used during fracturing operations are not contaminating groundwater.

-Oil and gas operators must have a water management plan in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface.

“We know from experience that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling methods can be used safely and effectively, employing many of the best management practices reflected in this draft rule,” said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. “Our thorough review of all the comments convinced us that we could maintain a strong level of protection of health, safety, and the environment while allowing for increased flexibility and reduced regulatory duplication.”

The supplemental proposal released today revises 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.

While the revised draft seeks to establish baseline environmental safeguards across all public and Indian lands, it also complements efforts of several states that are regulating hydraulic fracturing, including Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and Texas. The proposal includes a variance process that allows for deferring to states and tribes that already have standards in place that meet or exceed those proposed by this rule. 

Although the BLM is not proposing a material change in the provision that allows hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids to be stored either in tanks or in lined pits, the BLM is seeking comments on the costs and benefits of requiring flowback fluids to only be stored in closed tanks.

The Obama Administration has made expansion of domestic oil and gas production a priority, while ensuring that it takes place safely and responsibly. Domestic production from more than 92,000 oil and gas wells on public lands accounts for about 13 percent of the nation’s natural gas production and 5 percent of its oil production. The Bureau of Land Management administers approximately 700 million acres of onshore mineral estate owned by the Federal government and has trust responsibilities for about 56 million acres of Indian lands.

Once comments on the updated draft have been collected and analyzed, the BLM expects to issue a final rule that will ensure that operators apply proven cost-effective safety and environmental protection processes when engaging in hydraulic fracturing on public and Indian lands.

 The measure is part of Obama Administration’s strategy to promote safe and responsible domestic energy production.

“As the President has made clear, this administration’s priority is to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production. In line with that goal, we are proposing some commonsense updates that increase safety while also providing flexibility and facilitating coordination with states and tribes,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a press release.  “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is important that the public has full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place.” 

To view the updated draft proposal, click here.

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