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The Obama administration's proposed fracking rule would take America down the wrong path to dirty energy

Amy Mall

Posted August 21, 2013

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Later this week, NRDC and partner organizations will be submitting detailed comments to the BLM opposing its proposed fracking rule for any fracking that takes place under federal oil and gas leases. Hundreds of thousands of comments are also being submitted by Americans around the country. This rule, once finalized, will determine what safeguards against fracking are—or are not—in place on more than 750 million acres of federally managed mineral rights nationwide, including BLM land, national forests, national wildlife refuges, tribal lands, and private property. And, since this is the first time these rules have been updated in 30 years, we can safely assume that any new rules will be in place for a very long time--even more reason why they have to fully reflect the environmental risks, uncertainties, and safety precautions associated with today’s fracking methods.

Public lands are targeted by the oil and gas industry from California to Virginia, and from Michigan to Alabama. Among other of their priceless values, lands across the country at risk from fracking are home to key sources of clean drinking water for millions of Americans. I’ve blogged before in particular about some of the drinking water sources at risk from federal oil and gas leasing in Colorado, Ohio, California, and the Washington, D.C. area.

The proposed rule must be strengthened to reduce the risks to clean water and healthy communities. My colleagues Briana Mordick and Matthew McFeeley are blogging about the details of the BLM proposal, why it falls short of the minimum standards needed to address modern-day fracking, and how the BLM has continually watered down each version the public has seen, making the proposed rules weaker, apparently at the behest of the oil and gas industry. Here are some examples of protections missing from the BLM proposal:

  • putting wildlands, drinking water sources, and other sensitive places off-limits to fracking.
  • requirements that fracking takes place a safe distance from homes, drinking water wells, or public water supplies.
  • a ban of storing toxic fracking waste in open air pits, which can leak and overflow, and are proven to have contaminated drinking water, air and wildlife habitat with dangerous subtances.
  • public disclosure of fracking chemicals before fracking takes place to allow nearby water users to test their water for fracking chemicals to be used.
  • the strongest well construction rules; BLM’s current rules are 30 years old and fall short of industry’s own recommended standards.
  • limitations on what chemical information can be kept secret by oil and gas.
  • application of new rules to other forms of well stimulation, like acidizing, and not only fracking.
  • baseline testing and ongoing monitoring of all groundwater (including drinking water) and surface water

The BLM also wants to be able to exempt entire states from any of these proposed rules, even though no states have strong enough rules.

And the BLM wants to allow companies to provide data showing one well in a group of wells was constructed safely, instead of having to provide evidence that each well is safe.

See Briana’s and Matt’s blogs for the dirty details. Once the comment period closes on August 23, the BLM will be reviewing all the comments it received from the public. There will be an overwhelming call from people across America for the Obama administration to strengthen this much-too-weak proposal. A strong rule is needed to give the public confidence that the administration is really doing what is best for public health and the environment--not only what is good for the oil and gas industry as it pollutes its way across the country.

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Michael BerndtsonAug 21 2013 01:03 PM

I guess since Obama signed an executive order back in April 2012 to fast track "safe fracking" it has become necessary to address this issue 16 months after the fact. Back then fracking was cool or less uncool. Addressing protection measures after drill site mobilization has already begun is uncool.

Environmental protection safeguards from fracking operation are essential. So the more the better. Since many prospective shale plays sit in remote areas, are there measures wastewater treatment and discharge, i.e. SDWA/NPDES? RCRA? And go forbid CERCLA? If remediation is necessary, I'm sure taxpayers will get stuck with that cost given O&G workarounds. Protection measures can more easily be pushed onto operators - remediation and reclamation - not as easy. Unless we have a new dawn of Superfund Trust managers and lawyers.

What about restoration and remediation costs? Mined federal lands are so far behind reclamation targets (Phase 1 through 3) that it's pathetic. Bonds, security or trusts for reclamation are probably being drained for the general budget as I write this comment. Why would fracking be any better? All those wonderful safeguards are in place for other minerals as well and for some reason gets blown off.

Restoration isn't trivial given the impact on the landscape fracking has with well pads, near well gas processing, liquids storage, roads and pipelines. What are port abandonment reclamation goals - especially since shale play extraction life is shorter than conventional oil and gas production? My gut says O&G will be allowed to leave the land in similar condition that 19th century miners and loggers did.

scott AlfAug 27 2013 12:48 PM

Random atmospheric destruction backed-up by increased "randomly"lost methane from fracking is a direct threat to life for those who believe in Global warming.
decentralized replacement for fracking is available. Anaerobic digesters with heating from solar and production power from wind will replace sub terranian CNG/methane with terrestrial Biogas/methane inevitably.
The sooner the better in my book. The more I work to produce and manage my energy needs the more I have incentive to con$erve gas and prevent its loss as CH4.

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