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U.S. releases new federal fracking rules

By
Daniel J. Graeber

WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. federal government introduced new rules Friday on hydraulic fracturing, measures industry backers said would impose a "barrier to growth."

The Bureau of Land Management introduced final standards for hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands in the United States. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the final rule updates measures that in some cases are more than 30 years old and therefore outdated in the new era of shale.

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"This updated and strengthened rule provides a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources," she said in a statement.

The Interior Department said more than 100,000 oil and gas wells exist currently on land managed by the federal government. Of those, more than 90 percent use hydraulic fracturing.

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Rules that go into force in 90 days call for higher standards to mitigate environmental risks, increased transparency about the chemicals used during the hydraulic fracturing process and provisions to ensure groundwater supplies are protected.

An Ohio State University study published in October found bad well design, not hydraulic fracturing itself, was behind some reports of drinking water contamination.

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U.S. oil production of 9.4 million barrels per day is near the 40-year record thanks in part to advances in hydraulic fracturing. Natural gas production since 2011 has increased more than 6 percent.

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The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the interests of the energy sector, said the BLM measures are prohibitive.

"Despite the renaissance on state and private lands, energy production on federal lands has fallen, and this rule is just one more barrier to growth," Eric Milito, API's director of upstream operations, said in a statement.

By API's account, gas production from federal lands alone is down 21.6 percent since 2009.

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BLM estimates the new measures would translate to a 0.25 percent increase in the cost of drilling a well.

"This rule was informed and shaped by the technical expertise, interests and concerns of all of our partners, and builds on the work of states and tribes to ensure best practices on a nationwide basis," BLM Director Neil Kornze.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming contesting the rule, calling it "the product of a procedurally deficient rulemaking process." IPAA and WEA also object to the required "disclosure of confidential information."

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"Requiring oil and natural gas operators to file repetitive paperwork with multiple government agencies will not prevent or remediate environmental harm," attorney Mark Barron said in a statement. "To the contrary, if implemented the rule will rob oil and gas operators of the operational flexibility needed to ensure that the environmental footprint of development is reduced to the greatest extent possible."

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