Interior Department Releases Draft Fracking Rule Lacking Basic Public Right-To-Know Measures

By Jessica Goad

This morning the U.S. Department of the Interior released new draft regulations on oversight of natural gas drilling on public lands.  The rule specifically addresses  public disclosure of drilling chemicals, well-construction techniques, and “flowback” water that returns to the surface after drilling.

This rule will only apply to public lands, where about 3,400 wells per year are hydraulically fractured.  Public lands produce 20% of the nation’s natural gas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a press release today:

“…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.”

The Interior Department should be commended for modernizing rules that were last updated in 1988 — in particularly for creating new provisions that strengthen the government’s ability to regulate the construction and oversight of wells.  However, the rule lacks a handful of basic public right-to-know measures.

It would require natural gas drillers to disclose the chemicals being used after the fracking has taken place, not beforehand.  This makes baseline testing of water quality nearly impossible, as local communities will be unable to know what exactly to test for.  As Center for American Progress Chairman and Counselor John Podesta put it:

“Disclosure after the fact not only jeopardizes public health but effectively cuts the public out of discussions that affect their communities.”

Additionally, the Interior Department is “working with” the Groundwater Protection Council to determine whether the actual public listing of chemicals can be done on its website.  The Groundwater Protection Council is comprised of state oil and gas regulators, who often find themselves both promoting drilling and policing it.  A recent investigation by Greenwire found that 40% of state oil and gas regulators have financial ties to the industry.

Hydraulic fracturing is a natural gas drilling technique that involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals underground in order to help stimulate wells. Whether or not chemicals used in the drilling process can contaminate water has been the subject of intense debate.  The Environmental Protection Agency recently found at least one instance where hydraulic fracturing was implicated in drinking water contamination. That report was backed up by an independent analysis.

The Interior Department should require companies to disclose the chemicals that they will use before hydraulic fracturing takes place, as well as make the lists available on a public website.

In addition to these standards, long term natural gas development could be made more safe if exemptions from various federal environmental laws are repealed, the National Academy of Sciences conducts a lifecycle study of natural gas’ greenhouse gas emissions relative to coal, and EPA’s voluntary Natural Gas Star program for methane is made mandatory.

Jessica Goad is Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.

4 Responses to Interior Department Releases Draft Fracking Rule Lacking Basic Public Right-To-Know Measures

  1. john tucker says:

    Nothing should be used in fracking that isn’t something that occurs in the area naturally. We are a decade, at least, too late attempting to regulate this industry.

    Incredibly, despite not knowing the full effects of fracking and with a gas oversupply they are working on new was of getting even more gas.

    They are selling it partially as sequestration tech, but as it involves depresserization of the field, and no tests or indication of leakage rates Id imagine that is just another sham.

    Japan seems to have selected natural gas to replace a good portion of its nuclear power. Something that is unnecessary and is under the radar of most “environmental” sites.

    US, Japan complete methane hydrate production trial

    This testing will provide critical information to advance the Department’s efforts to evaluate various potential gas hydrate production technologies. The next stages of the Department’s research effort will be aimed in part at evaluating gas hydrate production over longer durations, likely through depressurization, with the eventual goal of making sustained production economically viable. While this may take years to accomplish, the same could be said of the early shale gas research and technology demonstration efforts that the Department backed in the 1970s and 1980s. ( )

  2. In anticipation of the usual round of Obama apologetics that’ll be coming in any time now, here’s a little quote:

    This, said Squealer, was something called tactics. He repeated a number of times, ‘Tactics, comrades, tactics!’ skipping round and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further questions.
    — George Orwell, Animal Farm

    — frank

  3. Is it possible that those in-the-know realize that due to continuing desertification and serial droughts within 50 or 60 years, no one will want to inhabit any place south of the old Canadian-US border anyway…so protecting the groundwater and the land here may be considered a distant second in relationship to the priority of raking out all fossil fuels in the short term? Cynical, I know, but just thinking.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think that the essence of Obamaism is illustrated by his treatment of whistleblowers. When he was peddling the hopium of the masses, whistleblowers were heroes, defending truth, freedom, liberty, the public interest, our moral values-the usual pabulum and persiflage. Once in power he has launched a veritable jihad against them, with more prosecutions than in all previous administrations combined and arguing for the usual, life-consuming, draconian sentences. That’s the real Obama, to the life.