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May 21, 2012

Stricter Safeguards for Federal Land Fracking

Natural gasFrom contaminated drinking water to destroyed public lands, it’s crystal clear that the oil and gas industry is responsible for putting public health and the environment at risk daily. Now, we have a chance to let the federal government know how crucial it is to minimize the impacts of drilling and demand that certain areas are off-limits to drilling.

Earlier this month, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued proposals for rules on oil and gas production on public lands – but they were laughably weak. Their disclosure requirement really made our eyes roll – it said that oil and gas companies would disclose the toxins they use in fracking only after the deed was done. If it must be done, fracking for natural gas should be thoroughly regulated at all stages to protect our public lands and the water we drink.

BLM manages over 700 million acres of mineral rights below the surface of the U.S. Many of these acres are located under national forests, wildlife refuges, and federal lands. The federal government should take this as an opportunity to use rigorous rules to potentially minimize the impact of oil and gas production. Federal rules governing the extraction process should be the gold standard, requiring the best available technology so that the land we own is protected for future generations.

Clearly, BLM could use some help, and your voice must be heard! As the largest manager of oil and gas resources in the U.S., BLM’s in the spotlight to lead by example. We must demand that at the very least, drilling on sensitive lands should be totally off-limits—including wilderness areas, roadless areas, national parks and national monuments—just to name a few!

When BLM does lease land, it should follow rules that are at least as protective as those in other states. Here’s how we think the minimum requirements should look:

  1. Full disclosure of chemicals: ALL chemicals used in drilling, including trade secrets, should be disclosed to the general public 30 days prior to drilling. Any land owner and tenant within half a mile of both the vertical and horizontal well should receive this disclosure so they can adequately monitor their drinking water.

  2. A ban on the use of diesel fuel: Diesel and drinking water don’t mix, but it’s still being used by gas companies in their fracking chemical cocktails. Diesel fuel and diesel by-products pose serious risks to Americans’ health and belongs nowhere near our drinking water.

  3. Direct control and monitoring of methane: While the technology exists, most states don’t require direct capture of methane at the surface of the well. The industry shouldn't be allowed to knowingly release this climate-disrupting compound into the atmosphere. Instead, they should be required to capture it and prevent it from entering the atmosphere. There’s even an incentive for them since methane is a valuable, sellable product. 

  4. Strict management of ALL fluids: Billions of gallons of water are used every year for fracking, so it’s important that we know where this water is going and how it’s being adequately treated. That’s why the industry needs a comprehensive plan for tracking all water used in operation, including wastewater. Also, after a well has been fracked, fluids flow back up the well into open pits and centralized impoundments on the surface. It’s simply not safe to have toxic fluids released into our air, so these pits and impoundments should be banned. Furthermore, the industry should set a standard of using closed-loop systems for collecting, reusing, and transporting waste fluids. It’s the safest way to store and reuse water on-site.

  5. Mechanical integrity of the well casing: Faulty casing could harm public lands and people’s drinking water. Well construction should reflect the highest technological advancements to fully protect public and private drinking water sources.

  6. Compliance with existing requirements: Companies should follow the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) immediately.

Our public lands shouldn't be sacrificed, nor should the gas and oil industry get a free pass to pollute our lands. Tell BLM that protecting our public health and land from fracking is the most important measure for any proposed rules.

-- Deb Nardone, Director of the Beyond Natural Gas Campaign

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