BLM seeks changes in hydraulic fracking rules
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
May 30, 2013 | 4827 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) revised proposed rule covering hydraulic fracturing is raising concerns among industry representatives. The rule would apply to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on federal and Indian lands.

Fracking is the process of injecting rock formations with pressurized liquid to release petroleum or natural gas for extraction. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying fracking to understand potential impacts on drinking water and groundwater.

One of the BLM proposal’s key issues centers on identifying chemicals used in the fracking process. There’s a chance industry officials might contend a few the chemical compositions constitute a trade secret and should not be disclosed, according to BLM spokeswoman Bev Winston of the agency’s Washington, D.C., office.

The revised proposed rule allows operators to submit to BLM an affidavit asserting exemption from disclosing the chemicals. However, it also gives the BLM the ability to demand the specific chemical details of any materials proposed for exemption.

The proposed rule also would require industry officials to do more record-keeping involving surface casings of well boards at drill sites, Winston said. That could raise operators’ costs by about $5,100 per hydraulically fractured well, she said.

In a news release, the Western Energy Alliance called the proposed rule an unnecessary layer of federal regulation. The alliance said it will hurt job creation and prevent productive resources from being developed for energy.

“States have been successfully regulating fracking for decades, including on federal lands, with no incident of contamination that would necessitate redundant federal regulation,” Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance’s vice president of government and public affairs, said in the news release. “DOI [Department of Interior] still has not justified the rule from an economic or scientific point of view.

“At a time of limited federal budgets, DOI is canceling lease sales and struggling to issue permits in a timely manner. We continue to question why DOI is taking on a whole new regulatory regime when it lacks resources, expertise, and personnel to implement it.”

DOI spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw in Washington, D.C., said the proposed rule should be printed in the Federal Register within days and will then be subject to a 30-day comment period from the public.

The BLM said in a news release the proposal would establish “commonsense safety standards” for hydraulic fracturing.

“Approximately 90 percent of wells drilled on federal and Indian lands use hydraulic fracturing, but the Bureau of Land Management’s current regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands are more than 30 years old and were not written to address modern hydraulic fracturing activities,” according to the news release.

The revised proposed rule will modernize BLM’s management of fracking “and help to establish baseline environmental safeguards for these operations across all public and Indian lands,” the news release stated.

Steve Bloch, energy program director and attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s Salt Lake City office, said most oil and gas wells in Utah are fracked.

“It is not less controversial here than in other places,” he said. “I know folks in Moab are concerned about it. Any time the BLM sells an oil or gas lease it comes with the potential for fracking.”

The BLM proposed a draft rule covering fracking in 2012. The current updated draft proposal results from more than 177,000 public comments on that plan.

The latest proposal “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,” according to the BLM news release.

The BLM noted it is not proposing a change to the provision that allows hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids to be stored either in tanks or in lined pits. But the agency said it is seeking comments on the costs and benefits of requiring those fluids to only be stored in closed tanks.

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