Federal fracking regs have some important measures

Posted: May 9, 2012

Written by

SARAH GILMAN, High Country News

If you want evidence that it’s an election year, look no further than this press release from the Department of the Interior. It announces the department's first-ever regulations (pdf) for certain federal lands covering several aspects of that ever controversial practice, hydraulic fracturing, wherein millions of gallons of water, plus measures of sand and chemicals, are fired into a wellbore under pressure to break up oil and gas-bearing geological formations thousands of feet below the ground and release their bounty to the surface.

The proposed rule, released May 4, applies mostly in the West, covering mineral rights overseen by the Bureau of Land Management -- which include those underlying the agency's own vast holdings as well as those beneath Indian lands, accounting for about 11 percent of domestic natural gas supply and 5 percent of domestic oil supply. It requires companies to publicly disclose the chemical composition of the fracking fluids (including specific amounts of each constituent) they use in the drilling process. The rule also requires them to take several steps to ensure the integrity of each well's construction so that chemicals and hydrocarbons moving through it won’t leak out.

If you’ve followed the media coverage, including ours, over the past couple of years, then you know that this latest regulatory landmark was primarily driven by calls to reduce drilling risks to and better ensure protection of ground and surface water supplies for drinking, agriculture, wildlife and more. But the DOI’s statement seldom mentions the environment or public health. In fact, the release goes on and on about the economic importance of oil and gas, touts the administration's record in ramping up production, and describes the new rule as a “common-sense measure” that supports the continued development of America’s abundant oil and gas resources on federal and Indian lands by taking steps to ensure public confidence in well stimulation techniques and technologies, including hydraulic fracturing.

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