BLM draft fracking rules get close look in Wyo.

Wyo. regulators, groups, review draft BLM fracking rules for signs of duplicating state rules

Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Wyoming officials worry that Interior Department rules for hydraulic fracturing on federal land might unnecessarily duplicate the state's existing regulations for the practice which has revolutionized oil and gas development while facing criticism from some as a potential threat to clean groundwater.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday released the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's latest draft rules for fracking, the practice of pumping pressurized water mixed with sand and specially formulated fluids into oil and gas wells to break open surrounding rock.

Jewell made a special effort in announcing the new proposed rules, which follow draft rules Interior released and withdrew last year, to argue that uniform rules for fracking on public land are needed. Fracking occurs on an estimated 90 percent of oil and gas wells drilled on federal land, she said.

"State regulations currently are in patchwork form. They are not consistent across states," she said.

Wyoming arguably has more at stake with the rules than any other state, with its tens of thousands of oil and gas wells located on federal land.

The draft rules would set standards for cementing well holes and — more controversially — require companies to share information about the fracking fluids they use. The fluids help the fine sand used in fracking flow into the newly formed fissures. The sand serves to keep the cracks propped open.

In 2010, Wyoming became the first state to require companies to provide state regulators with lists of fracking fluid ingredients. The BLM rules likewise would require companies to disclose the ingredients in fracking fluids.

The BLM would employ an online fracking chemical database, FracFocus, which is being used by Colorado and 10 other states but not Wyoming.

Jewell called Gov. Matt Mead with a synopsis of the latest rules ahead of Thursday's announcement, Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said.

"He appreciated that," MacKay said. "But, as he's said previously, he doesn't feel the federal rules are necessary because Wyoming has shown leadership on this."

Mead will weigh in further after looking them over, he said.

Sen. John Barrasso also said he would take a "hard look" at the new draft rules for any unnecessary or duplicative regulation.

"Simply forging ahead with new regulations that add layers and layers of more federal rules that duplicate or go well beyond what states have already successfully done risks stifling jobs and state revenues," Barrasso said in a release.

The draft rules would allow BLM to defer to states and tribes that meet or exceed the federal standards. Wyoming's rules are indeed stronger in some ways, said Shannon Anderson, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission requires companies to disclose to state regulators the ingredients of all fracking fluids they use. Under the BLM rules, disclosure would be voluntary in that companies could self-certify that the ingredients of their fracking chemicals are trade secrets that should be shielded from release, Anderson said.

"We don't know how that's going to get worked out. I think on the one hand, having a federal rule is having some kind of consistency across states," she said. "If the BLM is going to defer to certain states in certain situations, that defeats the purpose of consistency."

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, Wyoming Outdoor Council and other groups sued last year after the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission refused to publicly share lists of fracking fluid ingredients. A state District Court judge ruled against the groups in April. They have appealed to the state Supreme Court.

States like Wyoming have "inherent knowledge" of geology, hydrology and other local concerns that need to be addressed, Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said Thursday.

"We'd point to Wyoming as a perfect example of how the states have moved forward in a prompt and effective way to get disclosure requirements and drilling and operational standards in place," Molito said.

The Wyoming state regulators who oversee oil and gas development live and work in the areas being regulated, Sen. Mike Enzi said in a release.

"Wyoming is a model for how states can oversee energy production without burdening businesses with excessive red tape or publicizing industry trade secrets. A federal, one-size-fits-all approach isn't necessary," she said.

Jewell promised the BLM would defer to states and tribes as warranted.

"The BLM will work with states and tribes that already have standards in place so that we don't introduce unnecessarily duplication or delay," she said.

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