Is BLM Phoning It In?

Source: Soundcheck-WNYC

Yesterday the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new draft of its so-called “fracking rule.” To be fair, the proposed rule does represent a level of progress compared to sorely outdated rules on the books. But we’re dealing with critical issues here – not the kinds of things we can afford to only get half right.  And unfortunately, “half right” is about all we got here.

The most significant failings of the proposed rule have to do with well integrity – the way an oil or gas well is constructed and operated to minimize risks to the environment and public safety. Proper casing, cementing and pressure management are critical to protecting groundwater resources and the lives of the men and women who work the rigs. The rule takes steps in the right direction, but it doesn’t include nearly the level of detail necessary to ensure casing is set where it’s needed, operators are getting good cement jobs and the whole system is checked for mechanical integrity at critical points in the well development process.

The rule also falls short on chemical disclosure. We’re pleased to see the agency propose the same basic disclosure framework that has already been established by leading states – including requirements that operators disclose all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids (not just chemicals subject to OSHA reporting), and requirements to post the information on a user-friendly, publicly accessible website like FracFocus. But the proposal is far too weak on trade secrets. For the public to have confidence trade secret protections aren’t being abused, there needs to be a clear path for challenging trade secret assertions and policing the system.

Finally, while we recognize that you can’t address every issue in a single rule, it’s still worth noting two areas where agency rules are in glaring need of an overhaul. First, BLM needs to improve its rules for the handling, storage and disposal of the huge volumes of wastewater produced by unconventional oil and gas operations (the proposed rule merely asks operators to submit a plan). Second, BLM needs to adopt requirements to minimize emissions of methane – a highly potent greenhouse gas – and other contaminants that create local and regional air quality problems like they’re seeing in Colorado and Wyoming. There’s long been talk of dealing with methane emissions at BLM, but so far we’ve yet to see action. We hope that changes soon.

Moving forward, EDF will submit detailed comments on this rulemaking; and we’ll keep pressing for new and better rules on methane, waste and other key issues. We’ll work with other NGOs, state and federal regulators, forward-thinking companies and anyone else who’s willing to come to the table in good faith and help BLM complete their assignment and improve their grade. As the nation’s largest land holder – with almost 40 million acres leased for oil and gas development, and more than 12 million already under production – it’s critical that BLM set the highest standards for operations on these important public lands. Nothing less than excellence will do.

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  • About the author

    National Director of State Programs, Natural Gas
    Matt Watson oversees EDF’s efforts to improve environmental performance and oversight of oil and gas production activities in key states and provides strategic planning direction to EDF’s Natural Gas efforts as a whole.

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