The Rule will regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing on Federal and American Indian lands and mineral estates managed by BLM. The Rule, therefore, will apply to future oil and gas extraction on approximately 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate underlying both Federal and non-Federal lands and an additional 56 million acres of American Indian lands. According to BLM, there are already approximately 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands managed by BLM, and 90% of current wells placed on Federal lands involve the use of hydraulic fracturing.
The new requirements imposed on hydraulic fracturing will augment existing BLM regulations for oil and gas operations specified at 43 C.F.R. § 3162.3-1 and Onshore Oil and Gas Orders 1, 2 and 7. Most of these requirements have been in place for at least 25 years.
Key components of the Rule include:
- Provisions to ensure the protection of groundwater supplies by requiring validation of well integrity prior to hydraulic fracturing in new or any existing wells;
- Requirements to design and implement a casing and cementing program that follows best practices and meets performance standards to protect and isolate usable water (generally defined as those waters containing less than 10,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids). The Rule specifies that best practice includes cement return and pressure testing for surface casing, cement evaluation logs for intermediate and production casing, and remediation plans and cement evaluation logs for any surface casing that does not meet performance standards;
- Requirements to monitor cementing operations during well construction and take remedial action if cementing is inadequate;
- Disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to BLM through the FracFocus website within 30 days of completing the fracturing operations (similar to requirements imposed by several States already, including California). The rule provides limited disclosure exceptions for chemicals demonstrated to BLM, through affidavit, to be trade secrets;
- Specific standards for interim storage of recovered waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing operations. These requirements include management of fluids in “rigid enclosed, covered, or netted and screened above-ground storage tanks” with case-by-case exceptions;
- Measures to lower the risk of cross-well contamination by requiring companies to submit more detailed information on the geology, depth, and location of preexisting wells to allow for detailed assessment by BLM of site characteristics.
BLM has estimated that the cost of compliance with the new requirements imposed by the Rule will amount to less than one-fourth of 1 percent of the cost of drilling a new well.
The Rule does not adopt new enforcement or penalty requirements. In response to comments, BLM stated that these issues were outside the scope of the rulemaking and already addressed in existing regulations. Compliance with the rule, and enforcement for any violation of the new requirements, will be covered by existing regulations in 43 C.F.R. Subpart 3163. BLM’s remedies for an operator’s non-compliance with the new regulations are provided by the already existing 43 C.F.R. § 3163.1, and include written notices of violation, assessments, and the shut-down of operations. Repeated or continued non-compliance can result in civil penalties and possible lease cancellation pursuant to 43 C.F.R. § 3163.2. Finally, BLM notes in the rulemaking that criminal penalties may be sought for certain false statements made to the government in public land matters, whether sworn or unsworn, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1001 and 43 U.S.C. § 1212.
This may be only the first iteration in the regulation of hydraulic fracturing on Federal lands, with BLM stating that it will evaluate the adequacy of the rulemaking seven years after the date of publication to ensure that the standards are adequately addressing emerging technological developments and providing acceptable protection for human health and the environment.
The final rule can be viewed here.
- Tom Boer
For more information, contact J. Tom Boer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 228-5413.