The Obama administration's proposed fracking rule would take America down the wrong path to dirty energy

Later this week, NRDC and partner organizations will be submitting detailed comments to the BLM opposing its proposed fracking rule for any fracking that takes place under federal oil and gas leases. Hundreds of thousands of comments are also being submitted by Americans around the country. This rule, once finalized, will determine what safeguards against fracking are—or are not—in place on more than 750 million acres of federally managed mineral rights nationwide, including BLM land, national forests, national wildlife refuges, tribal lands, and private property. And, since this is the first time these rules have been updated in 30 years, we can safely assume that any new rules will be in place for a very long time--even more reason why they have to fully reflect the environmental risks, uncertainties, and safety precautions associated with today’s fracking methods.

Public lands are targeted by the oil and gas industry from California to Virginia, and from Michigan to Alabama. Among other of their priceless values, lands across the country at risk from fracking are home to key sources of clean drinking water for millions of Americans. I’ve blogged before in particular about some of the drinking water sources at risk from federal oil and gas leasing in Colorado, Ohio, California, and the Washington, D.C. area.

The proposed rule must be strengthened to reduce the risks to clean water and healthy communities. My colleagues Briana Mordick and Matthew McFeeley are blogging about the details of the BLM proposal, why it falls short of the minimum standards needed to address modern-day fracking, and how the BLM has continually watered down each version the public has seen, making the proposed rules weaker, apparently at the behest of the oil and gas industry. Here are some examples of protections missing from the BLM proposal:

  • putting wildlands, drinking water sources, and other sensitive places off-limits to fracking.
  • requirements that fracking takes place a safe distance from homes, drinking water wells, or public water supplies.
  • a ban of storing toxic fracking waste in open air pits, which can leak and overflow, and are proven to have contaminated drinking water, air and wildlife habitat with dangerous subtances.
  • public disclosure of fracking chemicals before fracking takes place to allow nearby water users to test their water for fracking chemicals to be used.
  • the strongest well construction rules; BLM’s current rules are 30 years old and fall short of industry’s own recommended standards.
  • limitations on what chemical information can be kept secret by oil and gas.
  • application of new rules to other forms of well stimulation, like acidizing, and not only fracking.
  • baseline testing and ongoing monitoring of all groundwater (including drinking water) and surface water

The BLM also wants to be able to exempt entire states from any of these proposed rules, even though no states have strong enough rules.

And the BLM wants to allow companies to provide data showing one well in a group of wells was constructed safely, instead of having to provide evidence that each well is safe.

See Briana’s and Matt’s blogs for the dirty details. Once the comment period closes on August 23, the BLM will be reviewing all the comments it received from the public. There will be an overwhelming call from people across America for the Obama administration to strengthen this much-too-weak proposal. A strong rule is needed to give the public confidence that the administration is really doing what is best for public health and the environment--not only what is good for the oil and gas industry as it pollutes its way across the country.