Department of the Interior Releases Final Rules for Fracking on Public Lands

Comprehensive rules on hydraulic fracturing and drilling include stronger safeguards than in 2013 while failing to ensure sensitive and valuable areas are kept off limits to drilling


Jess Ennis, Earthjustice, (202) 295-7619


The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized a new set of rules today governing hydraulic fracturing on public lands nationwide.

The controversial oil and gas development technique more commonly known as “fracking” blasts millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to force oil and gas from underground deposits. It is a central part of unconventional drilling operations that have been linked to public health issues as well as air and water pollution.

While we are still reviewing the rule, the finalized rules appear stronger than a draft issued in 2013, but do not address several recommendations by the Obama administration’s own task force on shale gas development. Two improvements of importance incorporated into the rule are a move to use tanks instead of pits to store produced water, except in very limited circumstances, and removal of the "type well" concept, replaced with a requirement for a well integrity test on every well drilled on public lands. 

Still, the BLM rules fail to ensure that sensitive, valuable and unique lands are kept off limits to drilling and there is a reliance on FracFocus for key fracking chemical disclosure. More than 1 million people raised concerns via comments on the rule back in 2013.

Statement from Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Jessica Ennis:

"Our public lands and the people who live near them deserve the highest level of protection from the oil and gas industry. Today's Interior rules take an important step forward by moving toward the use of tanks to store toxic produced water and removing the flawed 'type well' concept and replacing it with a requirement for integrity tests on all wells, but there is more to be done. The United States must ramp up our expansion of clean energy and keep oil and gas in the ground.

“While this rule is an important step by the Interior Department, it is imperative that the Bureau of Land Management continue to improve its regulatory oversight of the oil and gas industry on our public lands. The oil and gas industry has operated irresponsibly for far too long and the best way to protect our public lands from fossil fuel development is not to frack them at all.” 

Read press release in Spanish.

A natural gas fracking well near Shreveport, Louisiana.
A natural gas fracking well near Shreveport, Louisiana. (Daniel Foster / Flickr)

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