New Federal Fracking Rule Rumored to Be Imminent

It’s rumored that the BLM is about to release the next draft of its proposal for fracking guidelines for public lands.

We’ve been blogging about all the significant failures with the first draft, and why a strong rule is so important, not just to preserve America’s wild places, but to protect drinking water sources for millions of people across the country, from California  to Virginia. This includes private wells in places where the federal government owns the rights to minerals beneath the surface, as well as large municipal drinking water sources, like the watershed that provides all of the tap water for Washington, D.C.

In FY 2012 alone, the BLM issued new leases on more than 1.75 million acres of land in 20 states—all of which may involve fracking! This is an area about the size of Delaware--in one year alone. Much of this is public land, but the BLM also leases oil and gas resources beneath private land and Indian land. In fact, the federal government has leased an area that, combined, is larger than the entire state of Florida.

The rule that comes out of BLM will determine what protections are (or more importantly, are not) in place to protect all of this land and these drinking water supplies. Unfortunately, the latest draft we’ve seen is woefully inadequate, and puts all of them at risk.

When the next draft comes out, we’ll be looking closely to see if it has been strengthened in a number of ways that we’ve called for. This includes: adding requirements for companies to disclose the chemicals they use before fracking begins; requiring baseline water testing in an area before fracking begins in order to determine the source of any contamination; establishing the highest standards for well design and construction; and prohibiting the use of open air pits to store or dispose of toxic fracking waste.

This will be the first action on fracking we’ll see from the new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel. Secretary Jewell has come from the private sector. Early in her career she worked for the oil and gas industry. More recently, she has been the CEO of REI, a retailer of outdoor recreation equipment.

Secretary Jewell was recently quoted in an article as saying that, as drilling technology evolves, it is essential that regulators keep pace. We could not agree more.

Earlier today, CEOs of national environmental organizations, including NRDC’s Frances Beinecke, sent Secretary Jewell a letter to express their concerns about the environmental and health risks from oil and gas development. The CEOs explained that, as the largest mineral manager in the nation, the federal government should be a model for all. Instead, the BLM’s rules are outdated. The BLM needs strong new rules for fracking that give Americans confidence that the federal government is dedicated to protecting their clean drinking water.

Although the science is still out on the risks of fracking, the BLM continues to approve modern fracking around the country without the necessary new environmental impacts analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The BLM has not even been thoroughly analyzing the potential risks to human health posed by fracking. And the rules that are on the books are not being sufficiently enforced.

The environmental CEOs are ready to work with Secretary Jewell to help put a meaningful fracking rule in place at the BLM. And with so much at stake – it’s easy to see why.

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