The public comment period for new federal regulations regarding fracking on public lands—the first substantive update to the rules in three decades—ended on Friday with over 1 million submissions from both critics and advocates evaluating the proposed rules. The proposed rules have garnered substantial attention, with demonstrators sporting both pro- and anti-fracking messages turning out in force to protest President Obama’s recent appearance in New York. President Obama continued to express support for increased domestic production of natural gas, touting it as a replacement to dirtier fuels like coal, although natural gas production on federal lands has fallen from 5,376 billion cubic feet in 2009 to 3,724 billion cubic feet in 2012.
The proposed rules would apply only to Federal and Indian lands—approximately 700 million and 56 million acres respectively—while the vast majority of fracking occurs on private land. But one of the goals of the federal regulations is to establish a model for state regulations which cover fracking on non-government land. The rules also apply only to hydraulic fracturing, but not other methods of well stimulation.
The rules themselves have already undergone some significant changes based on public reaction and industry input. Among other things, the proposed regulations would:
- Exempt automatic disclosures of chemicals used in the fracturing process based on trade secret protections and institute a central website, “FracFocus.org”, for all public disclosures.
- Create testing protocols for well integrity, particularly the cement casings on wells and aquifers, maximum injection pressure, and flowback volumes.
- Require management plans for the protection of both surface water and groundwater from contamination by flowback fluids, including potentially requiring such fluids to be stored in closed tanks.
The American Petroleum Institute estimates that the proposed rules could cost the fracking industry between $30 million and $2.7 billion per year. Other industry estimates predict $354 million per year in added costs. The Bureau of Land Management, however, has downplayed cost concerns, publishing estimates closer to $20 million per year in added expenses.
As of yet, the BLM has not set a target date to finalize the proposed rules.