Climate

The U.S. Just Got New Environmental Rules For Fracking, And Republicans Are Freaking Out

CREDIT: AP Photo/Richard Vogel

On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final version of rules governing the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on America’s public lands. Under the rules, companies that want to frack on lands like national parks and forests would have to comply with stronger standards to protect the environment.

Republicans and the oil industry are not happy about this. So unhappy, in fact, they’ve already taken up drastic measures to stop the rule. According to Politico, 27 Senate Republicans have introduced a bill to block them, and two oil industry groups have filed a lawsuit to nullify them.

Filed by oil industry groups Independent Petroleum Association for America and the Western Energy Alliance, the lawsuit claims BLM lacks the authority to issue stricter regulations on fracking. “The rulemaking has been procedurally deficient and the final rule as issued is contrary to law,” it reads, adding that “[T]he court should find the rule invalid.”

The bill, which includes a co-sponsorship from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was reportedly filed before the rule was announced.

Under the final rules, oil and gas companies will be required to disclose all the chemicals used while fracking on protected lands. In addition, companies will be prohibited from storing fracking wastewater in open pits on national public lands, and will be required to periodically test the integrity of every well to help prevent pollution.

The rule is somewhat of a compromise between oil and gas industry players who feared strict regulations would inhibit the fracking boom that’s sweeping across the country, and environmentalists who wanted stronger protections. As evidenced by the lawsuit, many oil and gas industry representatives wanted no updated rules at all — and many environmentalists wanted a complete ban on the practice.

In fact, while some environmentally-minded groups praised the rule for requiring more environmental protection for public lands, others were less enthused. A group of five prominent environmental groups, for example, released a joint statement calling the regulations “toothless.”

“Our precious public lands have been sacrificed by the Obama Administration for the short-term profit of the oil and gas industry,” said Food and Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter in a press release. The statement was co-signed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Action, and Mark Ruffalo, who in addition to being an actor is an advisory board member for Americans Against Fracking.

Still, some were happy that the final version of the rule added more environmental protections than were included in the initial proposed version. The first version, for example, did not require fracking companies to store their wastewater in enclosed steel tanks instead of open pits. Wastewater pollution is one of the biggest environmental concerns stemming from fracking, as the brine often contains chemicals and a large amount of salt.

“Amid this rapidly-changing energy landscape, it is vital that safety practices keep pace with advancing technologies and that the public have confidence that drilling is being done as safely as possible,” Center for American Progress senior fellow David J. Hayes said in a statement. “[The rules] are a big step forward toward safer drilling practices on America’s public lands.”