Bureau of Land Management “fracking” rule should be improved

May 16, 2013

New draft rules governing hydraulic fracturing on federal lands need to set a good example for states and local governments, according to The Wilderness Society.

 “While we’re still reviewing the details, at first glance the new guidelines for hydraulic fracturing on BLM lands can and should be improved,” said Lois Epstein, P. E., Arctic Program Director and a licensed engineer at The Wilderness Society.

“There are three key factors that need to be addressed in the new rule:

  • Public disclosure of fracking fluid: requiring full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing before a well is fractured – without egregious loopholes for “trade secrets.”  Unfortunately, the new rule keeps a “trade secret” loophole open, allowing companies to conceal the chemical contents of their fracking fluid. The BLM can force disclosure if necessary, but requiring the information up front is essential.  And the use of industry’s FracFocus as a dissemination mechanism has numerous, well-known limitations.
  • Well casing standards: guaranteeing the highest standard for well casing integrity is the best insurance against groundwater contamination. At the very least, the BLM rules need to be as strong as the standards set forth by the oil and gas industry itself, through the American Petroleum Institute.
  • Storage of flowback water: once the fracking fluid is brought back to the surface, it must be stored in secure storage tanks rather than lined ponds.  The new rule continues to allow storage in pits, but will evaluate the costs and benefits of storage tanks.

“We know that tank storage of flowback water is far superior to lined pits in protecting groundwater quality, and any final rule needs to require tank storage," said Epstein. Likewise, the American public has a right to full disclosure of what chemicals are sent belowground and this rule fails to provide that protection. Oil companies’ trade secrets shouldn’t trump our right to clean water.” 

“While these guidelines will only apply to BLM lands, they could act as a template for fracking operations across the country. State and local governments will be looking to these guidelines as a model on how to govern drilling and fracking for their own communities. This is especially important for states without a recent history of extensive oil and gas drilling.”

“The new fracking rules are important, but they also highlight the critical need for the BLM to continue the good work they’ve already done in reforming drilling practices.  These much needed reforms are keeping drilling – and associated fracking – away from the most sensitive landscapes.  Continuing to implement these reforms will be critical in keeping wild lands protected and vibrant.”