Today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released a draft rule requiring natural gas and oil companies that drill on public or Native American lands to comply with new procedures. These rules are intended to increase the transparency of the fluids used in “fracking” process as well as ensure adequate protection of ground water supplies from contamination just below the well head casing.
The new rules are the first revision from the Bureau of Land Management on hydraulic fracturing since 1988 and were meant to consider the changes the industry has undergone in the last several years. First, companies will now be required to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process after they have been injected into the well. Environmental groups lobbied for disclosure but drilling companies claimed that changing ground conditions make it impossible to know the makeup of chemicals prior to drilling.
Second, companies will now be required to conduct tests to make sure that wells at the first several hundred feet are properly encased in concrete to prevent leaks into the surrounding water table. This test, known as a “cement bond log”, would be required after a permit is issued to drill but before approval of fracking operations could occur. The insert of the diagram below illustrates the role the cement casing plays in a well as it keeps fluids from seeping out into the surrounding ground.
The final component to the new draft rule would be a requirement by drilling companies to have a water management plan in place to handle the fracking fluids that flow back to the surface after the process is complete. This rule is intended to ensure that if a well experiences control issues with water flowback that adequate measures are in place to contain the water and reduce the risk of fracking fluids contiminating ground water. The water is currently recovered in nearby pits that are sealed from surrounding ground water supplies.
The Department of Interior hopes to have the rules finalized by the end of 2012 after an open public comment period and any subsquent revisions. While environmental groups may hope that these regulations for public and Indian lands will be a forerunner for broader Federal rules overall to regulate drilling, many drilling companies argue that State officials have a much better sense of local geological conditions and community fears and concerns.