Environmental and Tribal Groups Sue BLM over New Mexico Drilling Permits. On March 11, environmental and Navajo tribal groups filed suit in federal court in New Mexico against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) challenging permits issued by BLM for gas development in the vicinity of the Chaco Culture Natural Historical Park, an area that contains many Navajo communities as well as extensive ancient ruins and ceremonial sites. The area is also home to the Mancos Shale, a large, relatively undeveloped formation believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Drilling does not occur within the park itself, but the lawsuit alleges that artifacts outside of the park’s borders will be damaged by increased drilling operations, traffic and air emissions. The groups allege BLM’s approval of over 100 permit applications near the park, without the use of an Environmental Impact Statement, violates the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act and National Historic Preservation Act.
FERC Publishes Rule to Govern Protests During Public Meetings. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued Order No. 806 this week, prohibiting signs, spontaneous comments and physical demonstrations at open meetings. FERC expressed concern that the Commission will be unable to address agenda items due to the growing number of protests during public meetings concerning energy resource development using hydraulic fracturing. Going forward, protestors that disrupt proceedings will be escorted from meetings. The rule will be published in the Federal Register and take effect thirty days later.
California Closes Wastewater Injection Wells Following Oversight Hearings. The California Senate Environmental Quality Committee and Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee recently found that state regulators have allowed injection of wastewater into federally protected aquifers, in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. In response, the state issued a number of cease-and-desist orders to well operators, after the State Water Resources Control Board found twelve wells were too close to drinking water sources. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also now involved in the oversight and has given the state a list of deadlines to review the remainder of its wells. The next deadline is May 15, when the state must complete its evaluation of all wells that dispose of wastewater in the state’s cleanest water bodies.
Maryland Continues to Weigh Oil and Gas Legislation. The Maryland House considered a bill this past week regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing to develop energy resources within the state, with legislators remaining split on the proposals. Under regulations proposed under previous Maryland Governor O’Malley (D), drilling would not begin for at least three more years, and even then will be restricted in some parts of the state. Industry groups and supporters appear poised to move forward with regulations, pointing to a three-year study performed by the former Governor’s administration that regulations could lower risks. Still, opponents argue that the regulations are not yet sufficient and are calling for an eight year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until additional studies can be performed to evaluate health and environmental impacts.
Pennsylvania Proposes Revised Aboveground Drilling Regulations. Pennsylvania has proposed additional standards for noise and wastewater storage, along with increased protections for schools and other structures located near well sites. The Department of Environmental Protection has been researching and drafting the proposed regulations, which would be the first major revision of the current regulations, since 2011. The regulations propose to designate some sites, including schools, as public resources that require additional permits or well location considerations. Other rules would govern wastewater pits and impoundments and also monitor noise levels. During public meetings in 2013, the agency received thousands of comments and the agency has been working to address the comments, as well as recent legal decisions. A thirty-day comment period on the rules begins in April, with the final regulations expected to go into effect in 2016.