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New Rules Governing Fracking on Public Land

On March 20, 2015 the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) released a final rule governing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public and American Indian lands. First proposed on May 11, 2012, the rule has finally issued after receiving over 1.5 million public comments, and will update existing regulations on the topic first passed over 30 years ago. Most notably, these new rules incorporate new drilling technologies, such as fracking, which were not accounted for when the oil and gas extraction laws were originally passed. In this ruling, the Obama administration is trying to set a national standard for these controversial oil extracting practices because they are crucial to fueling the U.S. oil supply.

This final rule attempts to protect groundwater and surrounding land by regulating the disposal of materials such as wastewater and chemicals used in the drilling process. Key changes to the final rule include: (1) The allowable use of an expanded set of cement evaluation tools to help ensure that usable water zones have been isolated and protected from contamination; (2) Replacement of the “type well” concept to demonstrate well integrity with a requirement to demonstrate well integrity for all wells; (3) More stringent requirements related to claims of trade secrets exempt from disclosure; (4) More protective requirements to ensure that fluids recovered during hydraulic fracturing operations are contained; (5) Additional disclosure and public availability of information about each hydraulic fracturing operation; and (6) Revised records retention requirements to ensure that records of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations are retained for the life of the well.[1]

Unfortunately, there will never be a happy medium when it comes to this highly debated subject. The energy companies are already criticizing the new rules for being too burdensome and intrusive on their day to day operations, and the environmental groups are in outrage that these rules are not limiting enough. Two energy groups have already filed a lawsuit claiming that “BLM's rulemaking represents a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns and the administrative record lacks the factual, scientific, or engineering evidence necessary to sustain the agency’s final rule.”[2] Energy companies are also not happy with these new rules because they will cost significantly more per well drilled, and take a lot longer to process drilling applications and slow down production.

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