New bill is a fracking nightmare

Fracking drilling rig

Lock the Gate Alliance, flickr

A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would deprive the Bureau of Land Management of the ability to enforce safety and environmental standards for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on federal lands.

H.R. 2728 would give states (and only states) the power to set the rules for monitoring and regulating fracking on public lands. BLM is developing standards for fracking operations on the lands it manages, but the new bill would revoke the federal government's ability to regulate important human health and environmental guidelines pertaining to well integrity and chemical use for oil and gas drilling and wastewater storage and disposal. State regulations and even unenforceable “guidance”—no matter how limited—would replace the BLM standards.

“The bill is indifferent to how well state programs protect surface and groundwater, wildlife habitat and the public.”

So what would fracking rules look like on a statewide level? That’s not clear, because the laws implemented by states vary widely, with some states requiring very little oversight. And the bill is so poorly worded that some critics have noted that, if passed, the language could allow states to authorize fracking in America's wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and even national parks

Gas flare at a fracking site. Photo: Kate Ausburn, flickr

According to Lois Epstein, The Wilderness Society’s Arctic Program Director and a civil engineer, “The bill is indifferent to how well state programs protect surface and groundwater, wildlife habitat and the public.”

Testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources recently, Epstein warned members of Congress that the proposed bill would certainly have adverse consequences for both the public and the environment.

“The bill prohibits the federal government from regulating hydraulic fracturing operations—including associated operations such as chemical and wastewater storage and disposal —on federal lands, even if states have issued only hydraulic fracturing ‘guidance’ or have developed ineffective regulatory programs,” Epstein told the subcommittee.

Epstein, who has more than 25 years of experience in oil and gas environmental and safety issues and has served on oil and gas safety committees for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Transportation, said the bill would allow powerful oil and gas interests to ensure that some states have only minimal, inadequate regulations which would govern fracking activities on federal lands.

Fracking waste fluid pit at Roan Plateau, Colorado Photo: Ecoflight

The bill would prohibit the federal government from regulating fracking practices on lands that belong to all Americans. This is the wrong approach. Balancing our nation's energy needs with responsible conservation of our land and wildlife is a complex issue, which is why the federal government needs to be able to develop and enforce policies limiting the amount of damage caused to our wildlands by fracking.

The Wilderness Society works to ensure that fracking is done responsibly, with reasonable transparency of chemicals used and with appropriate wastewater disposal. We will continue to advocate for responsible development, so that America's most treasured wildlands can be protected now and for future generations. 

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