Interior Department Bows to Oil and Gas Industry Pressure, Weakens Fracking Rules

Updated rule weakens protections from those proposed a year ago


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (212) 845-7380

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed an updated set of rules governing hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on public lands today. The controversial oil and gas development technique—in which drillers blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to force oil and gas from underground deposits—has been linked to air and water pollution and public health problems.

Fracking rig. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

The updated proposal eliminates protections included in the version proposed last year and fails to include safeguards demanded by environmental and public health advocates.

Among the problems identified:

  • The proposed rules do not require an evaluation of the integrity of cement barriers in individual wells—the critical barrier between toxic fracking chemicals and groundwater—instead allowing oil and gas companies to test one well and allow those results to guide the development of other similar wells.
  • The updated proposal does not require fracking companies to disclose chemicals before they are pumped into the ground—a critical measure that would give nearby communities time to test and monitor water supplies for any fracking-related water pollution.

The following is a statement from Earthjustice Legislative Representative Jessica Ennis:

“Comparing today’s rule governing fracking on public lands with the one proposed a year earlier, it is clear what happened: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) caved to the wealthy and powerful oil and gas industry and left the public to fend for itself.

“Our public lands—and the people who live near them—deserve the highest level of protection. Today’s rule could have set the gold standard. Instead the BLM is settling for shoddy protections peddled by the oil and gas industry.

“It only takes one failed cement barrier to poison an aquifer. The BLM should be doing everything it can to protect drinking water. Instead it is trying out a harebrained cement-testing method on our precious public lands. And if the cement casing in a well fails and allows fracking chemicals to migrate into groundwater, nearby communities won’t have the necessary baseline water results or real-time monitoring available to alert them to the problem.

“The oil and gas industry has gotten used to doing business in a dangerously irresponsible fashion for far too long. Even industry supporters say that oil and gas companies need to stop operating this way. Rather than supporting those calling for reforms, the BLM chose to bow to industry pressure and enable industry’s bad practices.

“The President promised that this country’s gas drilling boom would not come at the expense of public health. With this rule, the BLM is putting the President on a path to betray that promise.”

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