Friday, May 04, 2012

DOI Releases Proposed Rule On Fracking Chemical Disclosure

May 4: Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced the release of a proposed rule to require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations (fracking) on public and Indian lands, with appropriate protections for proprietary information. Currently, there is no specific requirement for operators to disclose these chemicals on Federal and Indian lands, where approximately 90 percent of the wells drilled use hydraulic fracturing to greatly increase the volume of oil and gas available for production. The proposed rule would require public disclosure of chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing after fracturing operations have been completed.

    DOI said this "common-sense measure," which builds on the preliminary input received from the public, industry, tribal representatives, and other stakeholders, supports the continued development of America's abundant oil and gas resources on Federal and Indian lands by taking steps to ensure public confidence in well stimulation techniques and technologies, including hydraulic fracturing. It is also in line with steps that some states have already taken, requiring operators to disclose the chemicals they use in activities on state lands.

    DOI said the draft rule also contains two additional, commonsense measures to ensure development continues safely and responsibly: (1) Improving assurances on well-bore integrity to verify that fluids used in wells during fracturing operations are not escaping; and, (2) Confirming that oil and gas operators have a water management plan in place for handling fracturing fluids that flow back to the surface.

    Secretary Salazar said, "As the President has made clear, this administration's energy strategy is an all-out effort to boost American production of every available source of energy. As we continue to offer millions of acres of America's public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place. The proposed rule will modernize our management of well stimulation activities -- including hydraulic fracturing -- to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices."

    DOI indicated that the measures contained in the draft rule are consistent with the goals first outlined by Secretary Salazar in November 2010 during a forum on hydraulic fracturing on public lands to examine best practices to ensure that natural gas on federal and Indian lands is developed in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period will begin, during which the public, governments, industry and other stakeholders are encouraged to provide their input. The proposed rule would apply to BLM-managed mineral estate, including 700 million subsurface acres of federal estate and 56 million subsurface acres of Indian mineral estate.

    BLM Director Bob Abbey said, "The BLM recognizes the importance of all domestic energy sources to the welfare and security of this nation. The proposed rule will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources." Current BLM regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands are more than 30 years old and were not written to address modern hydraulic fracturing activities.

    DOI said the proposed rule seeks to maximize flexibility, minimize duplication and complement ongoing efforts in some states to regulate fracturing activities by providing a consistent standard across all federal and Indian lands and making reported information easily accessible to the public. For instance, the BLM is working closely with the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission in an effort to integrate the disclosure called for in the proposed rule with the existing program known as FracFocus.

    American Petroleum Institute (API) Upstream Director Erik Milito said any new Federal rules on hydraulic fracturing must reflect a history of successful state-led regulations on oil and natural gas production and avoid the creation of unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. He said, "The states have proven time and again that they are the best place for responsible regulation of drilling operations. While it appears constructive changes have been made, we are still reviewing the new proposal to see how the agency addressed the various concerns that we've raised. The administration should exercise deference to the robust and comprehensive state regulations that already exist. Energy production on federal lands has a history of driving job creation, and creating significant revenue for the government. But this potential could be stifled by a federal regulatory program that duplicates existing state regulations. This could have a chilling effect on investment and jobs."

    API said it supports and works closely with a number of public and private partnerships throughout the country that collaborate with state regulators, including, State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) and the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC). Milito said, "Led by API, the industry has adopted standards and practices for continuous improvement, hundreds of which are referenced in state regulations. The industry remains committed to informing and educating the public about all aspects of oil and natural gas production." Through the efforts of the industry to promote transparency, companies now voluntarily disclose the contents of fluids on, run by the Groundwater Protection Council. The typical fracturing fluid is 90 percent water and 9.5 percent sand, with the rest being additives to aid well production [See WIMS 5/2/12].

    Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a statement saying, "We need BLM to be a leader when it comes protecting our lands, water and ultimately our health from fracking pollution, yet several states already have stronger protections in place than what the agency proposed today. This is a critical first step, but so much more needs to be done. Oil and gas operations are expanding rapidly with new technologies and into new areas, including closer and closer to where families live and children go to school, but federal safeguards have not caught up. And industry does not inspire confidence when it balks at the notion of sharing chemical ingredients upfront. Communities shouldn't have to wait for that information until after the deed is done. We hope the agency will strengthen this proposal before it becomes final."

    Earthjustice Legislative Representative Jessica Ennis said in a statement, "Fracking for oil and gas is happening at a breakneck pace on our public lands -- and edging ever closer to the places where people live. In light of the near-constant reports of fracking-related air and water pollution, an update to federal rules is long overdue. Unfortunately, these proposed rules from the Department of the Interior fall far short of what's needed to protect public health. For one, the oil and gas industry needs to disclose the chemicals they'll be using in fracking before they are pumped into the ground. This information is essential so communities can test drinking water before fracking occurs and monitor the safety of water supplies in real time. If there's a problem with their water, families deserve to know immediately -- not after they've been drinking it for years.

    "The oil and gas industry has gotten used to operating in the shadows for too long – hiding chemical information, fighting against right-to-know laws, silencing families who speak out. It's unacceptable and needs to end now. The President promised in his State of the Union that this country's gas drilling boom would not come at the expense of public health. This proposed rule fails to meet that promise."

    Access a lengthy release from DOI/BLM with additional details and link to the proposed rule, economic analysis, appendix and related information (click here). Access the statement from API (click here). Access the statement from NRDC with links to more information (click here). Access the statement from Earthjustice (click here). [#Energy/Frack]

32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals