BLM: it's time for strong new rules for fracking of federal oil and gas resources

It’s time.

While the oil and gas industry continues to expand by leaps and bounds across the country, the Obama Administration is undertaking the long overdue task of developing new rules for the oil and gas industry to follow when leasing federal oil and gas resources--on federal or split estate lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has drafted new rules for well construction, fracking chemical disclosure, and handling of fracking wastewater.

If done right, these rules have the potential to be a national model for how the oil and gas industry operates in the U.S. That’s why the CEOs of more than 60 organizations – including Frances Beinecke of NRDC – today called for the Bureau of Land Management (part of the Department of the Interior) to use this opportunity to do just that, and set strong new rules when it comes to the fracking of federal oil and gas resources.

In a letter to the BLM and the White House Office of Management and Budget today, the organizations wrote:

“It is our hope that the BLM proposal will break new ground toward requiring oil and gas producers to use the best available practices to protect America’s clean air, clean water, wildlands, and human health. As the largest manager of oil and gas resources in the United States, the BLM can—and should—be a model for all oil and gas operations.”

President Obama said in his State of the Union address that, over the last three years, the U.S. has “opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration.”

When it comes to fracking, the President also said: “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

There is only one way to do that – with strong new rules that have high standards and tough enforcement mechanisms. Right now, the U.S. is far from that objective. Expanded operations use new technologies and explore new areas, but the rules on the books have not caught up. We know that the industry has equipment and methods that greatly reduce risks to public health and the environment, but if they are not required, they will not be used everyplace. (My colleague Briana Mordick is blogging on the technical changes that are needed to reduce the risks in the oil and gas development process.)

The BLM manages more oil and gas resources than any other entity in the United States, with leases that span from the East to the West, and the North to the South. This includes any resources beneath public lands, national forests, and national wildlife refuges. In total, the BLM is responsible for 700 million acres of onshore subsurface mineral estate in 40 states throughout the nation--an area the size of Argentina. And many of these acres are beneath private property where people live. The agency has the power to influence real change.

Americans shouldn’t have to trade their health, communities or quality of life for oil and gas industry profits. The signers of this letter represent millions of Americans across the country who want stronger safeguards against oil and gas development in their backyards, their schoolyards, and on their wildlands. The BLM should be the change that we need when it comes to creating a 21st century regulatory regime for oil and gas production in America – and set a safer national standard.