A first look at what could be the first federal rules for hydraulic fracturing is drawing mixed reactions in Wyoming.
A Wyoming oil and gas industry representative says not-yet-released federal rules for the practice, also known as fracking, look similar to state rules and could burden operators if enacted. But a representative from a landowner group says the rules will force operators to tell regulators about water used in the controversial practice, unlike Wyoming rules.
A draft of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management rules, obtained by the Star-Tribune, indeed look similar to Wyoming’s rules that govern the practice, confirmed Tom Doll, Wyoming’s oil and natural gas supervisor.
Such regulations are new to many states, because only a handful — including Wyoming and Colorado — regulate fracking at the state level, despite mounting furor over concerns the practice could hurt groundwater. But the rules aren’t new in Wyoming, which began regulating the practice in 2010 with rules that have proved a template for other states, including some that have adopted less-strict disclosure requirements.
Both Wyoming and the draft federal rules make operators tell regulators what chemicals they plan to pump underground to open pathways for oil and natural gas to flow to the surface, and the true content of frack fluids afterward.
Both sets of rules allow companies to apply for trade secret exemptions, protecting some of the contents of the fracking fluid — sand and small amounts of chemicals and mixtures — from the eye of the public and competitors. And both set of rules cover how operators should build wells to protect water.
Doll, Wyoming oil and gas supervisor, said he wouldn’t comment on the rules because they’re still in draft form.
But Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the state’s oil and natural gas industry trade group, fears the similarities between the two sets of rules could force operators to apply for a similar federal permit atop the already-required state permit.
“This will be another burden on the operators in Wyoming if adopted,” Hinchey said. “Any time the federal government is here to help I know it will become much more difficult to do what you were doing before, even though they say things are similar or the same.”
The federal draft rules are a “necessary and good start” for the BLM, said Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Resource Council landowners’ group, whose members and representatives have often been critical of how fracking is regulated.
The federal rules cover water injected underground during fracking, including where it originates, where it’s disposed after use and how it’s transported. Wyoming’s rules don’t cover those concerns, Morrison said.
“Equally important is the fact that these rules require disclosure of the water volumes required for fracking — where that fresh water comes from and where the contaminated flowback water goes,” she said. “We would like to see the BLM rules require baseline testing for water wells to ensure prevention of groundwater contamination.”
The BLM hasn’t yet announced when it will move forward on the draft rules, which have yet to be officially released for public comment. In remarks before the City Club of Cleveland on Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the rules would be released in “a few weeks.”
Salazar, who oversees the BLM, wants to require public disclosure of fracking chemicals, ensure well-bore integrity to make sure fluids don’t escape, and make sure operators have water management plans, said BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall.
Salazar believes fracking is integral to expanding natural gas developement on public lands, she said.
“As we continue to expand domestic natural gas production, it is essential that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place,” she said.