The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management issued a long-awaited final rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. The rule was announced on Friday, March 20, 2015. According to the DOI’s press release these “commonsense standards will improve safety and help protect groundwater by updating requirements for well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and public disclosure of chemicals.” The new rule applies to hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian tribal lands across the United States. Approximately 100,000 wells will be affected by the rule which is set to be published in the Federal Register on March 26, 2015 (can be found here) and will become effective 90 days after its publication (June 18, 2015).
The new rule is the result of a multi-year process that included multiple draft rules, stakeholder meetings and regional public forums, as well as more than 1.5 million public comments. The rule met with immediate criticism upon release from both environmental groups (claiming the rule does not go far enough) and industry groups (claiming the rule goes too far).
This rule will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources.
The DOI has highlighted four “key components” of the rule focusing on groundwater protection, increased transparency of chemicals used, waste fluid storage integrity, and cross-well contamination protection. According to the DOI, the rule:
- Increases protection of groundwater by requiring a validation of well integrity and cement barriers between the wellbore and water zones;
- Increases public disclosure of chemicals used by requiring disclosure on the website FracFocus, within 30 days of completing fracturing operations;
- Increases standards for interim storage of recovered waste fluids to mitigate risks to air, water and wildlife; and
- Implements measures to lower the risk of cross-well contamination by requiring companies to submit more detailed information on the geology, depth, and location of preexisting wells.
Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, issued a statement in tandem with the release of the final rule. “[M]any of the regulations on the books at the Interior Department have not kept pace with advances in technology and modern drilling methods,” the Secretary said, and “[o]ur decades-old regulations do not contemplate current techniques in which hydraulic fracturing is increasingly complex and is coupled with relatively new horizontal drilling technology in larger-scale operations that reach greater depths.” According to Secretary Jewell, we need “standards that encourage innovation, that help define the rules of the road for the industry, and that help protect communities.” “This rule will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources,” continued the Secretary, “[t]hat is good for the public and good for industry.”