Fracking Well (copyright Tim Evanson) The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed updates to its 30-year-old regulations of hydrological-fracturing (fracking) on Federal and Indian lands. These updates represent a watershed moment in the fracking debate. The Department of Interior (DOI) has not only recognized that current federal laws are outdated and insufficient but that there are deep concerns among the public regarding the threats to drinking water, air quality and human health from fracking. The proposed regulations themselves concern three main topics: public disclosure of fracking chemicals, construction standards of fracking wells, and management of wastewaters derived from operations.

Public comments to BLM’s second draft regulation closed on Friday, August 23, 2013; DOI received an astounding 1,193,091 individual comments regarding the proposed regulation. In its own comment letter to Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, EESI included the following recommendations:

  • BLM should implement increased protections of critical sources of drinking water from fracking operations. Forty million individuals in the United States drink from private wells; EESI’s recommendations to BLM would provide greater protection to both human health and the environment.
  • BLM should exercise caution with the rush to use natural gas as an appropriate “bridge fuel” in the transition to carbon-neutral fuel sources.
  • EESI asserts that the United States has not realized the full potential of improvements to energy efficiencies and increased deployment of renewable sources of energy. The climate warming impact of fugitive methane emissions at all stages of natural gas extraction and transport, plus threats to air quality around well sites, are serious issues that should be addressed in any further revisions to the proposed regulation.
  • EESI pointed out several examples of forward-thinking state regulators that should serve as an example to BLM. BLM’s final rule will likely serve as a template for (or otherwise impact) the development of state-level policies and regulatory actions of other federal agencies.
  • BLM should not overlook the results of several key investigations on the potential effects of fracking to drinking and groundwater that are underway at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

In its comments , EESI reminded BLM of the major responsibility it undertakes as the steward of a vast expanse of Federal and Indian lands. The potential impact on local communities is great and includes stressed social services and infrastructure as well as risks to water supplies and air quality. EESI believes that BLM’s primary concern as regulators should be with protecting human health and natural resources, not with lessening the regulatory burden placed on operators. EESI requested that BLM carefully weighs the potential gains of fracking against the real and measurable threats to human health, water quality and the climate, as well as the intangible loss to irreplaceable vistas, forests, and watersheds.

Author: Jessie Stolark