Department Of Interior Issues New Rules For Fracking On Public Lands

03/20/2015 02:20 pm ET | Updated Mar 20, 2015

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Interior released new rules for hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands in the United States on Friday, the first significant update to the regulations in three decades.

"Decades-old regulations don't take into account current technology for hydraulic fracturing," said Interior Sec. Sally Jewell in a call with reporters Friday. The new rules will require companies drilling on public lands to disclose the chemicals they are using to the Bureau of Land Management, will set higher standards for the storage of wastewater from the fracking process, and will require validation of well integrity.

There are 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands across the U.S., according to the department, and 90 percent of those in operation use hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to tap into oil and gas reserves. Friday's final rule applies only to development on public lands, however, not to the much more prolific development of state and private land. The Bureau of Land Management oversees 756 million acres of public land across the country.

"It's important that the public has confidence that it's being done safely," said Jewell. "I don't think anybody would say it's common sense to keep regulations in place that were created 30 years ago."

Under the rules, companies drilling on public lands will need to disclose the chemicals they are using through FracFocus, an industry-sponsored website, and submit that information within 30 days of beginning the fracking operation. BLM Director Neil Kornze said that the rule does allow for "limited exceptions for disclosure" under trade secret laws, but that BLM will be able to access a listing of all chemicals in the event of a spill or other accident.

The Department of Interior said it received 1.5 million comments on the draft version of the rules, which were released in May 2013.

Complaints about the new rules came from all directions Friday. A group of five environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, issued a statement calling the rules "toothless," and argued that they give too much leeway for the further development of public lands in an era when climate change considerations should be pushing the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement that the regulation "lets industry off the hook." "Rather than raising the bar, the Bureau settled for the lowest common denominator ... Half measures aren't a realistic response to the situation we face today," he said.

But industry backlash has been just as swift. The American Petroleum Institute, the industry's leading trade organization, criticized the rules as "duplicative." "Despite the renaissance on state and private lands, energy production on federal lands has fallen, and this rule is just one more barrier to growth," said Erik Milito, API's director of upstream and industry operations, in a statement.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance announced they were filing a lawsuit in the federal district court in Wyoming to block the rules within minutes of their release. Their complaint calls the rules "a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns."

In the call with reporters, Jewell argued that the rules are good for industry as well as the public. "We really are upholding the public trust here," said Jewell. "There's a lot of fear, a lot of public concern, particularly about groundwater and the safety of water supplies ... I think the industry recognizes that thoughtful regulation can help them, because it reassures the public that we're protecting them."

The rules go into effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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