Calling them a common sense approach that will complement state efforts, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials Thursday unveiled revised draft rules for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on all federal and Indian lands. The draft rules will now go through a 30-day public comment period.
Jewell urged stakeholders to "look past the rhetoric" and focus on "the merits" of the revised draft rules.
Anticipating that pro- and anti-fracking factions will not be satisfied by these latest draft rules, Jewell, who referenced her background as a one-time petroleum engineer who was involved in fracking in the late 1970s, said the revised rules should be "good for industry and good for the American public."
Jewell and BLM officials emphasized that the federal agency received in excess of 177,000 comments to last year's initial draft BLM rules (see Shale Daily, June 25, 2012), which were widely criticized by organizations on both sides of the fracking issue. The new draft is an attempt to incorporate that feedback.
"We know from experience that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling methods can be used safely and effectively, employing many of the best management practices reflected in this draft rule," said Neil Kornze, BLM principal deputy director, who added that the agency's review of all of the comments generated last year convinced BLM that public health and safety can be protected while allowing for increased regulatory flexibility and reduced duplication.
Jewell and Kornze said that the draft rules focus on three major areas: handling of flowback water in the fracking process, chemical disclosure requirements by operators, and increased assurances of wellbore integrity.
"I do understand how [fracking] works and how important it is to efficiently tap the resources that we have, and also the steps needed to ensure it is done safely and responsibly," Jewell said in introducing the updated draft rules as a "common sense approach."
Jewell said that as millions of acres of federal and Tribal lands are opened up to oil and natural gas development, "it is absolutely critical that the public has full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place."
The 171-page document includes rules covering the use of an expanded set of cement evaluation tools to ensure that usable water zones have been isolated and protected from contamination, and more detailed guidance on how trade secret claims are handled. BLM said it modeled the proposed chemical disclosure rules on those now in place in Colorado. BLM also cited Wyoming, Arkansas and Texas as providing good models for disclosure and oversight of oil and gas drilling operations.
The revised draft would require use of cement evaluation logs (CEL) in the place of the originally proposed cement bond logs (CBL).
"The use of the broader term of CEL is intended to allow a variety of logging methods to be used to show the adequacy of cementing, including technologies such as ultrasonic logs, variable density logs, micro-seismograms, standard CBLs, CBLs with direction receiver array, ultrasonic pulse echo technique and isolation scanners," the revised draft said.
"CBLs would be accepted because they are one of the technologies included in CELs."
Noting that fracking is taking place on 90% of the public lands where drilling is ongoing, Jewell said the draft rules attempt to complement the efforts of states that have rules regarding fracking. "Under these proposed rules, the BLM will work with states and Tribes that already have rules in place so we don't introduce duplication or delays," she said.
Anticipating concerns about regional and geological differences around the country, Jewell said the revised draft rules are flexible enough to accommodate various regional differences.
For environmental advocates who want an all-out ban on the use of fracking, Jewell said this "ignores the reality that fracking has been done safely for decades and has played a key role in unlocking our nation's energy potential. There is no doubt that this essential tool will be used for decades to come."
Questioning during an abbreviated teleconference tended toward skepticism about whether the updated rules bent over too far in accommodating industry, as opposed to environmental, concerns. For example, the revised draft BLM document proposes to continue to use FracFocus.org as the means of drilling operators disclosing chemicals used in fracking.
While a Harvard study and many environmentalists have questioned the veracity of the industry-created website, both Kornze and Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes stressed that they are open to suggestions for other means of ensuring that proper disclosure of chemicals is achieved. Hayes said Harvard's analysis criticized FracFocus' value as a "regulatory mechanism," but he said BLM proposes to use it as a "disclosure mechanism."
"If there are better ways to do that, then we are open to them," he said. "Our priority here is to make sure there is proper public information being provided."