Published on:

Congressmen Weigh In on Proposed BLM Rules on Hydraulic Fracturing

This summer, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management issued proposed rules relating to disclosure of the content of frac fluids and handling of frac fluids used in wells drilled on puclic lands managed by the BLM. Last week a group of Congressmen led by Congressman Edward J. Markey, D. Mass., head of the House Natural Resources Committtee, have submitted an extensive letter commenting on the proposed rules.

The letter criticizes BLM’s rules for (1) not requiring disclosure of chemicals in frac fluids prior to drilling of a well rather than after the fact, (2) proposing to use FracFocus as the method for disclosure of frac fluids, (3) allowing flowback fluids to be stored in earthen pits, (4) not imposing requirements for proper well construction, cement and casing design and installation, and (5) not establishing minimum setbacks between wells and public buildings to minimize harm from air emissions during well completions.

As I have reported earlier, the Texas Railroad Commission recently published proposed rules tightening regulations on well construction and cementing, as well as more stringent regulation of disposal wells, to better protect against contamination of groundwater.

The Congressmen’s comments reveal an interesting problem with use of FracFocus for disclosure of chemicals in frac fluids. FracFocus is a project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Several states, including Texas, have required companies to post the contents of their frac fluids on this website. The Congressmen’s letter cites a brief done by the Natural Resources Defense Council comparing the disclosure rules of different states and the capability of the FracFocus website to contain all the information required by the state’s rules. “[B]ecause the standardized disclosure form of FracFocus contains fields for only a very limited set of information, there is not a single state in which disclosures on the site contain all the information required by the state rule. For example, Texas requires in its state rules that companies report on FracFocus the amount and type of the base fluid used (i.e. fresh water, recycled water, other fluid, etc). However, the form on FracFocus provides no field entry for the base fluid type at all and instead allows only for reporting of the ‘Total Vlume of Water’.” BLM’s proposed rules require disclosure of the type of base fluid and where the fluid was obtained, pump pressures of the fluid and information on the chemical additives, none of which FracFocus can accommodate in its present configuration. In addition, the Congressmen’s letter says that the information is posted on FracFocus in pdf format rather than a spreadsheet or database format, so it is practically impossible for a researcher to use the data as an analytical tool to aggregate and analyze the data. “In fact, the terms of use for FracFocus forbid exactly this sort of broad use of the chemical information it contains for analysis, significantly limiting its scientific usefulness and ability to inform future policy decisions.” A Department of Energy report on the impact and safety of hydraulic fracturing specifically recommended that FracFocus should be updated so that “information can be searched, sorted and aggregated by chemical, by well, by company and by geography.”


Contact Information