The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently revamped 25-year-old rules for oil and gas drilling on federal and Indian lands to deal with environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing.
Both sides of the environmental debate are on the attack. Wyoming, North Dakota and two industry groups are suing to stop the rules, and Republican U.S. senators introduced legislation to prohibit federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Meanwhile, some Democratic members of Congress moved to ban hydraulic fracturing on federal land completely.
The 100-page final rule boils down to three main rule changes, which will take effect next month. Gas and oil companies will have to store wastewater from wells in tanks rather than open-air pits. Also, the companies will have to disclose publicly the chemicals they use at each drilling site. Third, drillers must test all wells before production begins, rather than testing only the first well of a new type. In states that have stricter rules than the new federal requirements, the state rules will apply to federal lands.
Mark Zoback, a professor of geophysics and director of Stanford‘s Natural Gas Initiative, was a member of the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s advisory board committee on shale gas production and environmental protection. Robert Jackson, a professor of Earth system science and a leader on the water and air impacts of natural gas and oil extraction, published the first studies of hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water.
Do you think the new rules are too strict or not strict enough?
There’s no question these are steps in the right direction, but more can be done. In 2011, President Obama charged then-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu with answering whether shale gas resources could be developed in a way that protected health and the environment,” says Zoback. Our committee’s answer was a resounding “yes,” but we made 20 recommendations about how things could be done better. The three main new rules from the Department of the Interior are from that list.”
He continues, “We proposed disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing, which is long overdue, but we went further. We recommended disclosure of where the fluids associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing come from, how they are used and how they are disposed. That was a consensus, a unanimous decision, of our committee as were all 20 of our recommendations.”