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Texas Oil & Gas Well Operators May be Saddled with New Federal Fracing Regulations

The U.S. Department of the Interior issued a proposal in May 2013 for hydraulic fracturing regulations for federal and Native American land. The Department claimed that the goals were to maintain safety standards, improve integration between states and Native American tribes, and increase flexibility for oil and gas companies.

The new proposal was in response to the 177,000 comments from the public regarding the first proposal on this issue, all within the 120 day public comment period last fall. The Department said many of these comments were addressed in the new proposal, and that due to the large number of comments, they decided to start with a new proposal rather than amend the old one. (Yes, the former proposal was that flawed).

The Department claimed this latest proposal has three main elements, which are: (1) requiring operators to disclose chemicals they use in fracing on public land; (2) additional well bore integrity assurances to verify that fracing fluids do not contaminate groundwater; and (3) confirmation that oil and gas operators have a water management plan for handling flowback fluids.

The new proposal contains substantial changes from the previous draft proposal. One change is that the scope of the regulations is narrowed to fracing and excludes other “well stimulation” procedures such as acidizing. In addition, in the new proposal, a fracing application would have to include the estimated direction, length, and depth of the well. A third change in the new proposal is that any problems with cementing of a well would have to be reported verbally within 24 hours and in writing within 48 hours. These are not all the changes in this revised proposal.

Some of the comments suggesting other changes were not taken up in this new proposal. These include: baseline water testing, disclosure of chemicals proposed for fracing prior to fracing, leak detection requirements or double lining for impoundments. Oil and gas industry groups objected to some of these suggestions, especially where proposed new regulations duplicate and add to the current labyrinthian regulation regime for hydraulic fracturing.

The Bureau of Land Management, part of the Department of Interior, issued a supplemental notice of proposed rules. Barry Russell, the President and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, pointed out that “If [the Department] believes there are gaps in state regulations of oil and gas, [it] should work with the states to implement changes rather than imposing a costly and burdensome rule on independent producers.” Kathleen Sgamma from the Western Energy Alliance asserted that while the new proposal may be better than the old one, the Department has still not justified the need for any new regulations from either an economic or a scientific point of view.

Like the previous version, this new proposal will be open for public comments. The deadline for comments will likely be 30 days from the date the new proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register, although Representative Doc Hastings of Washington and Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts have requested a 120 day public comment period, as was available for the first version of the proposed regulations last fall, a request that the IPAA and other industry groups support.

These proposed regulations are misguided and unnecessary. They add another layer of requirements to state and tribal regulations to address a risk that BLM itself terms ‘largely unknown’ and to realize benefits that, by their own admission, they are unable to quantify. They were created by bureaucrats who lack knowledge of the science underlying the process of fracing. What we have here is another federal agency running around making up things to do so their budget doesn’t get cut. Our tax dollars at work.

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