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BLM's proposed fracking rules bow to industry pressure

A few weeks ago, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed new rules for energy companies involved in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, on federal and tribal lands. The new rules include new regulations on reporting, and require companies to obtain approval before drilling. In addition, the rules require that companies disclose the toxic chemicals they use in the process – but only after the drilling is complete. Obviously, communities who are concerned about the effect of toxic chemicals on their groundwater would much prefer to see this information before drilling starts.

Fracking is a natural gas drilling technique, popular in the United States and, increasingly, abroad, which relies on the injection of large volumes of chemical cocktails, along with water, into the earth. The injection causes fractures in deep layers of rock, which allows otherwise unattainable reserves of oil and natural gas to be extracted. Communities and environmental advocates are concerned about the public health and environmental impacts of fracking, which were examined in the documentaries Gasland and Split Estate and are increasingly making headlines.

The BLM’s proposed rule on disclosure has disappointed environmentalists. An earlier draft of the rules, leaked to the media, had proposed that companies disclose their use of chemicals 30 days before beginning a project. The proposed rules were softened after closed-door meetings at the White House with oil and gas industry lobbyists and individual corporations, including ExxonMobil, XTO Energy, Apace, and Samson Resources, who were concerned that the paperwork involved with prior disclosure would slow down the process and reveal their trade secrets.

The administration's change to the proposed rule is a concession to industry concerns for greater and faster output, in spite of communities’ concerns for the safety of their groundwater. The proposed rules are currently open for public comment.

Of the 3,400 wells drilled on federal or tribal lands each year, about 90% will be drilled using fracking, and yet these are a mere fraction of the 13,000 fracking projects drilled each year. The majority of fracking takes place on private lands and, consequently, is regulated at the state level.