The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has extended by 45 days the comment period for its proposed guidance to oil and natural gas producers on using diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) "in response to requests from several stakeholders." The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday also extended the comment period for its proposed fracking rule, setting the new date of Sept. 10.
The new deadline to submit comments on EPA's proposed rule is Aug. 23, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday. The initial public comment period for the agency's draft Permitting Guidance for Oil and Gas Hydraulic Fracturing Activities Using Diesel Fuels, which was released two months ago, had been scheduled to end on Monday (July 9).
The guidance is meant to clarify the requirements for producers that seek underground injection control (UIC) permits to use diesel as a fracking fluid in their drilling operations. The 55-page draft includes recommendations on how UIC permit writers should implement requirements related to permit duration and well closure, permit application and review, area of review and well construction, which includes mechanical integrity testing, financial responsibility and public notification.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) exempts fracking fluids (except for diesel fuel fluids) from federal regulation and keeps regulation in state hands. While diesel fuel makes up only about 0.09% of typical fracking fluid, oil and gas operators injected an estimated 32 million gallons-plus of diesel fluids, or fracking fluids containing diesel, into wells in 19 states between 2005 and 2009, according to some House members who oppose the practice (see Daily GPI, Feb. 1, 2011).
In December a bipartisan coalition of four senators sent a letter to EPA expressing its "growing concerns" about the broad approach that the agency appeared to be taking to regulate fracking fluids, not just diesel fuels (see Daily GPI, Dec. 23, 2011). Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, late last year said her greatest concern was "the extremely broad approach that EPA appears to be taking in defining diesel fuel. For example, it appears EPA could define 'diesel fuel' as any product that contains similar carbon chain characteristics."
Those concerns have been echoed in some of the nearly 1,300 comments already filed with EPA. The agency's "definition of diesel fuel is too broad," the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) said in its filing. Some language in the draft "must be removed from the guidance because [it does] not comply with the 2005 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorizes regulation of hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuels only," according to NDIC. Such a broad definition could create problems for some seemingly harmless diesel substitutes, including mineral, corn and canola oils, which have some physical and chemical characteristics similar to diesel.
Others submitting comments said EPA should consider exempting from its rules those states that have been regulating fracking for decades.
"States continue to do a superior job of regulating well-completion treatments which use hydraulic fracturing," according to the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC). "This statement is proven by the fact there has not been a documented case of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing well-treatment (with or without diesel) as reported by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Consequently, the KCC believes a draft guidance document is unneeded for states which have regulated this activity for 65 years. State have proven they are best suited for their unique geologic conditions, industry standards and practices."
Separately, BLM on Wednesday extended until Sept. 10 the comment period for its proposed rule to require companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in fracking operations on federal and Indian lands. BLM officials said last month they expected to extend the comment period, which was scheduled to close Tuesday (July 10) (see Daily GPI, June 25). BLM had received more than 170 comments by June 25.
"As the Obama administration continues to offer millions of acres of America's public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place," said Acting BLM Director Mike Pool. "We've been asked to allow more time for comment on the proposed rule and the BLM has determined that additional time was warranted so that all parties had an opportunity to participate."
In February BLM proposed requiring companies that drill on public and Native American lands to disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations, including their formulation (see Daily GPI, Feb. 6). The agency subsequently backtracked slightly, saying companies would only have to disclose the information after operations have been completed (see Daily GPI, May 7).
The industry contends that additional regulatory oversight by BLM is duplicative, unnecessary and wasteful. The Western Energy Alliance has said BLM's plans would cost taxpayers $1.499-1.615 billion annually.
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