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FRACKING PUBLIC LANDS: Is the BLM Bowing to Industry Pressure on New Fracking Rules?

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FRACKING PUBLIC LANDS: Is the BLM Bowing to Industry Pressure on New Fracking Rules?

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Briana Mordick

Last year the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a draft rule for well stimulation (including hydraulic fracturing) under federal leases. The original proposal included limited new rules for chemical disclosure, mechanical integrity and waste water handling.

After it received extensive public comment, the BLM announced it would be going back to the drawing board and developing a new draft for public comment. This new draft was recently leaked to the press. If it’s legitimate, it appears that the BLM has further weakened what was an already weak rule.

The leaked draft contains a number of troubling revisions:

  • Replacement of the term “well stimulation” with “hydraulic fracturing.” Proposed rules in the previous version applied to “well stimulation” operations, which included hydraulic fracturing and other techniques like “acidizing,” where the industry injects large quantities of acid down a well. The new version only covers hydraulic fracturing.

    • Why do we care? Acidizing can present some of the same risks as hydraulic fracturing and should be regulated similarly. Operators in the Monterey Shale in CA, for example, have experimented with massive acidizing jobs using an extremely hazardous acid called hydrofluoric acid.[i] This activity wouldn’t be regulated under the revised rules.

  • The results of tools that are used to tell how effectively drinking water is isolated, called cement evaluation logs, don’t have to be submitted until after hydraulic fracturing is performed. Also, the results from one well can be used as a proxy for multiple wells. Under the previous version, operators would have had to submit unique results for each well before fracturing in order to get approval to frack.

    • Why do we care? The whole point of cement evaluation logs is to ensure drinking water is protected before fracturing begins. If drinking water isn’t properly isolated, the well needs to be fixed before fracturing, but the BLM may not know if there’s a problem until after fracturing has happened—or they may not know at all, if the results submitted are for a different well.

  • In the previous version, operators had to submit unique information for each well to get permission to frack—things like the depth at which fracturing will occur, where the water used for fracturing will come from, how much water, how far the fractures are expected to grow, etc. In the revised version, they can submit one packet of generic information and get multiple permits.

    • Why do we care? Each fracturing operation is unique and regulators can’t determine if the design is safe and appropriate using generic information.

  • See a blog from my colleague, Matt McFeeley, on how the BLM is gutting chemical disclosure requirements.

Furthermore, it appears that the BLM is also failing to make any additional improvements recommended by the Natural Resources Defense Council and a coalition of other environmental groups. These improvements are necessary to address the full range of environmental and human health risks associated with well stimulation, and include things like setbacks, baseline water testing, and well construction.

Time will tell whether these leaked rules are legitimate. Will the BLM give the industry yet another lollipop to appease their latest temper tantrum or will they fulfill their responsibility to protect our shared public lands?

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

[i] Rowe, Greg, R. Hurkmans, and Norman Jones. "Unlocking the Monterey Shale Potential at Elk Hills: A Case Study." Paper SPE 86993 presented at the SPE International Thermal Operations and Heavy oil Symposium and Western Regional Meeting, Bakersfield, California. 2004.

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Click here to sign a petition to tell the Bureau of Land Management to issue strong rules for federal fracking leases on public lands.

 

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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