Why Even Rugged Individualists Should Embrace Federal Fracking Regulations

 

By Amber Wilson, environmental quality coordinator
Amber Wilson, environmental quality coordinator

Think of Wyoming. Now think of federal environmental rules. The first thing that might come to mind if you know this state is something along the lines of a scuffle, to put it lightly.

Wyoming has a proud tradition and culture of rugged individualism.

Our elected officials, almost universally, favor locally grown answers to Wyoming’s problems—and tend to have great disdain for D.C.-based “solutions.”

And we, as a state, have a well-deserved reputation of setting our own course when it comes to governing.

But I’d like to make the case for why the federal Bureau of Land Management’s proposed hydraulic fracturing rules can and should be embraced by even Wyoming’s most rugged individualists.

And why the citizens of Wyoming should not only support these federal rules but also help to make them stronger.

The BLM’s draft regulations, released in May, would require—with exemptions for “trade secrets”—the disclosure of the chemicals injected underground during hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands and also set stronger nationwide standards for well-bore integrity and the handling and management of “flowback” (waste) water, among other things.

The proposed regulations would lay a broad foundation for ensuring groundwater nationwide is protected during the fracking process. Critics of the proposed rules have said they are redundant and that the states can provide effective supervision themselves.

But despite this push-back from some state leaders, the reality is that at the state level, we don’t have all of the protections offered in the proposed BLM rule. And even if these protections were part of a state policy, the same benefits would be impossible when applied at the state scale.

There’s a simple reason for this. Because state regulations vary, some rules are more effective than others, some can be riddled with loopholes, and many more states still lack regulations altogether.

This brings up the most important point: problems created in a groundwater source or with air quality won’t restrict themselves to the political boundaries in which they were created.

A state could have perfect regulations, but if another state doesn’t create those same or similar regulations and pollutes a shared water source or degrades the quality of a shared airshed as a result, there is a gap that state policy alone cannot fill.

This federal rule would help bridge that gap and boost the states’ protections for public health—namely through groundwater protection.

Thus, while it is important for states to develop their own regulations for fracking (e.g. Wyoming is currently developing a highly valuable and important baseline testing rule), a federal fracking rule is a vital safety net for ensuring a consistent, reliable, minimum standard as states continue to build and strengthen their own regulations.

The BLM’s proposed rule is intended to serve as a minimum standard for all states. The agency proposes to still allow individual states to implement their own stronger rules if they choose, but also to serve as a safety net for the public in states where local rules are insufficiently protective.

 

Click here or on the image below to comment now!

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 10.32.11 AM[Aug12]

Public Involvement: Vital for Creating the Right Rule

The BLM’s proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands are essential, but—as is the case with any draft environmental regulation—it can and should be improved before it is made final.

There are several components of the proposed rule that the Wyoming Outdoor Council is urging the BLM to revise in order to ensure that people and the environment are protected.

The public can comment on the draft rule until August 23, 2013.

This is the time in which any member of the public can write to the BLM and express support and/or concern for the rule or parts of it, and help the agency ultimately create a rule that is as effective as possible.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council is participating in this process and submitting detailed comments to the BLM in an effort to help improve the rule. We encourage all citizens, if you are able, to do the same.

Click here to comment now! The formal title of the rule is: Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands

 

Here are some points you might consider making:

  • The proposed rule has no requirement for operators to disclose chemicals, even to the BLM, that the operators classify as trade secrets – there should be a requirement for the BLM to verify any trade secret claims before they are withheld from the public.
  • The proposed rule lists FracFocus.org as the primary disclosure venue for hydraulic fracturing fluid constituents. We believe this is a serious flaw. FracFocus is not an independent, public interest website. The BLM should create its own, independent, nonpartisan venue for disclosure, one that is subject to government oversight, and that the public can trust in perpetuity.
  • Chemical disclosure of fracking fluids should happen before fracking operations, not after as the proposed rule reads.
  • Baseline and post-drilling water testing should be required. Neither is currently included in the proposed rule.
  • “Type well” testing (testing only the integrity of one well and using the results of that test for all wells deemed similar to it)—suggested in the proposed rule as a means of reducing operator time spent testing well integrity—are not an appropriate shortcut. The process for determining similarity between wells is not outlined in the proposed rule. Given the importance of ensuring the integrity of each production well and the subjectivity of determining well similarities, it is more responsible for operators to perform well integrity tests on each production well they drill.
  • The proposed rule does not require the disclosure of the chemicals in flowback fluids—it should.
  • The proposed rule allows storage tanks OR lined pits to be used in the management of flowback—it should require ONLY storage tanks.
  • The proposed rule allows for “usable water” exemptions—thereby permitting operators to potentially pollute drinkable water. These exemptions should never be allowed.
  • The proposed rule exempts from its purview processes such as acidizing, which are processes similar to fracking. The rule should include processes similar to fracking.
  • Bonding of new production wells as insurance for reclamation (should a company go bankrupt, abdicate its responsibilities, or improperly abandon its wells) is not required in the proposed rule—it should be.

 

Amber Wilson, environmental quality coordinator, can be reached at (307) 332-7031 x20 or amber@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org.

Other posts you might want to see:

Fixing Haze Pollution: Wyoming People Deserve the Facts

The Mega Fields Are Coming—We need to apply lessons learned to Protect Wyoming

Proposed Wyoming gas field would be one of the largest on the planet

Why We’re Seeking Fracking Chemical Information

Groups seek better disclosure of fracking chemicals in Wyoming

Posted in *All posts, Public Health & Environmental Quality, Public Lands & Wildlife Tagged with: , , , ,
3 comments on “Why Even Rugged Individualists Should Embrace Federal Fracking Regulations
  1. John D Farr says:

    This is NOT a valid argument for Federal Rules. What state first licensed Engineers? Why? Your excuise is that is a long time ago.

    Recently the BLM badly handled a program in Southern Wyoming because they did not contact any property owners in a 100 mile stretch. That plan is on hold after citizens demanded new discussions.

    Currently the BLM is trying to override local leadership for power line locations which will hurt Tourism in Wyoming–our 2nd biggest industry. They are out of touich with real world people.

    WHY should anyone have confidence in BLM rules on fracking? Quick–where are the leading educational schools that know about fracking? And you honestly think D. C. has more knowledge than these schools?

  2. Amber Wilson says:

    Mr. Farr, I disagree. The following is in fact a valid argument: groundwater/surface water/airshed pollution are problems that have the potential to cross political boundaries, relying solely upon state regulations will not/cannot address problems that cross political boundaries because different states have different regulations (or none at all). Federal regulations can address problems that cross political boundaries. Therefore, to establish adequate groundwater/surface water/airshed protection across political boundaries, federal regulations are necessary.

    Keep in mind that the BLM rule proposes to allow states like Wyoming to follow their own laws where they are better than the federal rule. The most important aspect of the BLM rule is that it would establish a minimum standard for the nation. States like Wyoming can continue to meet or exceed that minimum standard on their own if they choose, but other states will not be allowed to continue doing nothing to protect the public from potential contamination.

    I empathize with your frustration/concern about the agency’s ability to formulate policy, which further supports my suggestion that the public should become involved in the comment process.

  3. Bryon Lee says:

    Fabulous write up. I truly appreciate the folks at W.O.C. empowering individuals in protecting Wyoming. Thank you.

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