Doing the right thing for clean water

The DOI recently updated some regulations for hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas development on public lands. A long time coming, these regulations are going to benefit our precious water resources.

Thirty years ago many of us were still fishing with fiberglass rods, catch and release was just barely catching on, and many waders were still rubber. That’s a little perspective. A lot has changed in 30 years. That’s also how long its been since the federal government has revised its oil and gas drilling regulations, so it’s particularly gratifying that the Department of the Interior is now modernizing their regulations on hydraulic fracturing. TU members concerned about water, water quality and trout habitat have been asking for improved safeguards from drilling on federal land. We’re excited that DOI has proposed several new changes—modernizations—to fracturing regulations. It’s high time.
For those of us who would rather think about fishing and cold clean water, it should be pointed out that the practice of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling capability has also come a long way in those thirty years and so too has its use in oil and gas fields around the country. Energy companies use hydraulic fracturing deep underground to break up formations that hold our country’s vital energy resources. Fracturing works to release oil and gas from the formations, but absent a modern set of regulations federal land managers have played a limited role in ensuring that it’s done responsibly. This has raised considerable concerns about water pollution in many places around the country. Chemicals are injected into the ground, sometimes without land managers or the public knowing what they are. Now, with these proposed rules, DOI is going a long way to ensure the future of safe drinking water, the future of trout and trout fishing, and human health. The new proposed regulations which were published this week will do three things for drilling on federal lands.

A step in the right direction: DOI's recently released regulations on oil and gas development. Such regulations will have profound implications on public lands drilling such as this exploratory gas well in the mountains of Wyoming.

First, companies who use fluids in the fracturing process must release the chemical components of the fracturing fluids.
Second, the specific details about the integrity of the well, from the casing to the construction itself will need to be revealed.
Third, a plan will need to be in place to show what will be done with the water and chemicals that are discharged during the drilling process.
This is all common sense stuff. TU members and staff have been advocating for these types of changes for years—writing letters, traveling to Washington, DC, and attending the Interior Department’s public meetings around the country—to convince federal officials that public knowledge of what is being done on public land makes sense. We want our federal land managers to have all the knowledge available to ensure that they can do the best job for us on our public lands.

TU supports responsible energy development. Responsible development means developing in the right places, with the right methods. Two years ago, the Interior Department issued leasing reforms that took a huge step toward improving management of public land energy development. Where they have been implemented, these reforms have resulted in better public involvement that has led to avoidance of sensitive habitat. The proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing represent the next step toward modernizing the Bureau of Land Management’s approach to drilling on public lands in ways that should reduce risk of harm to water resources. While there is still room for improvement before the rules are finalized, the DOI leadership should be commended for these changes.
The Bureau of Land Management oversees oil and gas operations on some 700 million subsurface acres of Federal mineral estate and 56 million acres of Indian mineral estate across the country. So while these rules will not apply everywhere, they will go a long way toward improving management of energy development.
Energy needs to be developed in this country, and can be developed in a way that doesn’t come at the expense of our natural resources and our human health. But there’s still much more to be done to protect water resources from drilling impacts. There are still exceptions to parts of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act that should be discontinued, and needed improvements to the design and implementation of state regulations. TU will remain engaged in policy and land management decisions, and in continued monitoring such as that being done by volunteers on trout streams in Pennsylvania and elsewhere will go on. Sacrificing our future and that of our children is not an option.

–Tom Reed

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