Following a process that included more than 1.5 million public comments, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released final standards that she said will support “safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing on public and American Indian lands.”
The standards will “improve safety and help protect groundwater by updating requirements for well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and public disclosure of chemicals,” Jewell said.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and Western Energy Alliance almost immediately filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), challenging BLM’s issuance of regulations.
There are more than 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally managed lands. Of wells currently being drilled, more than 90 percent use hydraulic fracturing. The rule applies only to development on public and tribal lands and includes a process so that states and tribes may request variances from provisions for which they have an equal or more protective regulation in place. This will avoid duplication while enabling the development of more protective standards by state and tribal governments.
The final rule is being called “a major step in the Department of the Interior’s agenda to support a balanced, prosperous energy future.”
Other reforms will also include important measures to target where oil and gas leasing occurs and protect sensitive areas that are “too special to drill.”
“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” Jewell said. “This updated and strengthened rule provides a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources. As we continue to offer millions of acres of public lands for conventional and renewable energy production, it is absolutely critical the public have confidence that transparent and effective safety and environmental protections are in place.”
Key components of the rule, which will take effect in June, include:
- Provisions for ensuring the protection of groundwater supplies by requiring a validation of well integrity and strong concrete barriers between the wellbore and water zones through which the wellbore passes.
- Increased transparency by requiring companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to the BLM through the website FracFocus, within 30 days of completing fracturing operations.
- Higher standards for interim storage of recovered waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing to mitigate risks to air, water and wildlife.
- Measures to lower the risk of cross-well contamination with chemicals and fluids used in the fracturing operation, by requiring companies to submit more detailed information on the geology, depth, and location of pre-existing wells to afford the BLM an opportunity to better evaluate and manage unique site characteristics.
IPAA and Western Energy Alliance characterize BLM’s rulemaking as “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns” and requests the regulations be set aside because the administrative record lacks the factual, scientific or engineering evidence necessary to sustain the agency’s action.
States have an outstanding record of protecting the environment and safeguarding the public. This new rule is simply another regulatory overreach by the Obama Administration that will hurt America’s oil and natural gas producers, the groups said.
“From California to Pennsylvania, the oil and natural gas industry has played a critical role in reviving America’s economy and hydraulic fracturing has been the key to this revival,” said IPAA President and CEO Barry Russell. “These new mandates on hydraulic fracturing by the federal government, however, are the complete opposite of commonsense. At a time when the oil and natural gas industry faces incredible cost uncertainties, these so-called baseline standards will threaten America’s economic upturn, while further deterring energy development on federal lands.
“America’s independent producers currently reinvest as much as 150 percent of their cash flow back into new projects here at home, investments that support not only the job-creating small businesses behind this energy revolution, but also the countless industries and consumers who benefit from affordable, secure American energy every time they drive their cars and heat their homes. Hydraulic fracturing has been conducted safely and responsibly in the United States for more than 60 years. These new federal mandates will add burdensome new costs on our independent producers, taking investments away from developing new American-made energy, much-needed job creation and economic growth,” Russell said.