Five Things That Are Needed In New Fracking Rules

The Department of the Interior is about to propose a revised version of rules to govern the practice of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells on federal lands. The department’s Bureau of Land Management oversees drilling on 700 million acres of land, including almost 60 million acres of private land where the agency owns the mineral rights.

It has been a year since the BLM took its first stab at this task — and fell short of what is required. As CAP’s chair and counselor John Podesta said on May 4, 2012, about that effort:

Natural gas is a key component to establishing a clean energy future in the United States, but the public must be confident that it is done safely and responsibly, and the proposed rule released today by the Department of the Interior misses the mark.

The federal rules governing the controversial well stimulation technique commonly called fracking — which haven’t been updated since 1988 — should be a model of thorough, transparent and workable government oversight.

Most of the lands where they will be applied belong to all Americans, a birthright that we hold in trust for generations to come. That alone requires the Interior Department and the Obama administration to not cut corners in deference to the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately there are numerous indications that, as Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said last week, “The Interior Department seems to be making the rule weaker, not stronger.”

The tests that the new rules should meet include the following:

  • Maximum transparency. Chemicals used in fracking must be disclosed to the public to the greatest extent possible. While it is common in states that require disclosure to allow exemptions for trade secrets held by individual companies, this exception has in some cases been stretched to become a loophole. In the new federal rules there should be thorough oversight so that only truly legitimate trade secrets are protected. And even real trade secret information should be disclosed to regulators and medical professionals who may have to respond to health emergencies.
  • Disclosure through a government website. The public must have access to full information on where fracking is occurring, and what substances are being used, through a government-run website, not one that is industry supported. The FracFocus website managed by an Oklahoma non-profit with industry ties has numerous flaws. It doesn’t collect and publish some of the information that individual states require be disclosed, and it is very difficult for users of the site to aggregate and analyze information.
  • Disclosure before drilling. The public must know before drilling begins, and not only after it is completed, what chemicals are being injected underground. Early disclosure will allow the public and nearby private landowners to assess risks to their health and to document conditions that exist before drilling begins so they can make comparisons if accidents or spills occur.
  • Baseline and post-drilling water testing. The Department of the Interior should require that nearby water supplies be tested both before and after drilling.
  • State of the art well construction standards. Protection of underground water supplies cannot be guaranteed without application of the highest possible industry standards for well integrity and testing of cement casings.

With the unveiling of the new rules on fracking on public lands the Interior Department under new Secretary Sally Jewell — and the Obama administration as a whole — will be laying down an important marker about how they will manage fossil fuel development on the public’s lands.

Other tests lie ahead. They include whether the administration can build on the progress made during the first term in reforming oil and gas leasing so the program does a better job of cohesive planning over large landscapes and of avoiding conflicts with other resources and uses such as recreation and municipal watersheds. The administration should also make good on its promise to raise decades-old royalty rates paid by oil and gas companies, should adopt a clean resources standard for public lands to re-direct energy development more towards clean energy, and should take into account climate change impacts when doing environmental reviews of energy projects.

Finally, an administration which has been aggressive about increasing fossil fuel production from federal lands should be equally aggressive about conserving public lands that have great value for things other than commercial development. As we have shown in the past, the administration’s record in that regard is insufficient, and lags far behind some of its recent predecessors.


13 Responses to Five Things That Are Needed In New Fracking Rules

  1. Sue says:

    Nobody seems interested in the issue .of methane leakage from Wells and pipelines.

    Another under reported issue is that of water supply diminution by the millions of gallons permanently tainted by FRACKING and lost to agriculture,cities and riverine environments.

  2. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Pipe dreams, much cheaper to buy congress. Our owners do not approve of this sort of regulation.

  3. Paul Klinkman says:

    You use the precautionary principle before injecting toxic chemicals into groundwater. First the fracking companies can prove that the chemicals are safe, and only then have they passed that obstacle.

    I grew up near a superfund site, although we didn’t know it at the time. A local factory was injecting a volatile hydrocarbon into the ground. Every house on my street had a cancer death, probably because of the well water. In my house it was my sister Ruth. The EPA ordered us to get city water.

    There’s still the precautionary principle applied to causing climate change. The fracking companies need to first show beyond a reasonable doubt that they’re not dumping massive amounts of “natural” methane gas into earth’s atmosphere, creating freak tropical storms in the middle of tornado season and frying the Arctic Ocean.

    Of course we pretty much know that the fracking companies are poisoning each community’s ground water and poisoning the eaarth’s atmosphere, so their attempt at proof otherwise would probably be a crock.

  4. DaveE says:

    Why allow exemptions for trade secrets? If companies don’t want to disclose what they are using, then they can restrict their drilling to private land–access to public land should come at a price (in addition to reasonable royalties).

  5. Tami Kennedy says:

    The U.S. should ‘cap’ the industry. It is still an expanding CO2 source no matter the packaging.

  6. Paul Klinkman says:

    The ground deep beneath every piece of property is a public water supply. It should be no more wantonly polluted than a city’s drinking water reservoir should be wantonly polluted. If people have no right to dump toxic waste into a little stream running across their land, then they have no right to dump the same toxin into the groundwater flowing beneath their land.

  7. Am I reading this right……?

    “And even real trade secret information should be disclosed to regulators and medical professionals who may have to respond to health emergencies.”

    So it’s OK for “real trade secret” chemicals to be injected into the water supplies so long as medical professionals know how to respond to the health emergencies they cause? Also, how can doctors respond to an outbreak of cancer?

    Surely this is not what the authors intended to say.

  8. Pusscat says:

    Hey, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
    We have our very own Department of the Inferior regulating fracking just as well for magnates right here in sunny Australia.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Why regulate something inherently dangerous and destructive? Fracking ought to be outlawed. Cleaning-up capitalism’s act is bulldust.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That’s the sort of world you get under capitalism. The profits of the plutocrats are worth more than the mere lives of the proles, particularly to that psychological type that has no human empathy and is totally indifferent to the suffering of others-the corporate psychopath (if you’ll pardon the tautology).

  11. Raul M. says:

    It is a great affair to romance a group into revealing their actions. But to claim that others would want to emulate their actions? More likely in those cases the others are having great difficulties abandoning their water supplies etc.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    The DOI is pinch-hitting with what it’s got.

    We must revoke the exclusion in the ENERGY POLICY ACT OF 2005 which exempted fracking from coverage under The Safe Drinking Water Act.

    Page 102, Section 322. HYDRAULIC FRACTURING.

    Paragraph (1) of section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h(d)) is amended to read as follows:
    ‘‘(1) UNDERGROUND INJECTION.—The term ‘underground injection’—
    ‘‘(A) means the subsurface emplacement of fluids by well injection; and
    ‘‘(B) EXCLUDES—
    ‘‘(i) the underground injection of natural gas for purposes of storage; and
    ‘‘(ii) the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.’’
    NOTE, otherwise – other than for fracking – the Safe Drinking Water Act already has Underground Injection Control.

  13. Is it just me, or is there something almost surreal about guest bloggers writing for a climate blog about what fracking rules are needed, and never saying that full public disclosure of all fugitive emissions from every well, the monitoring of which should be mandatory under U.S. law, are utterly necessary? In this new group, we have this to say on it –