The Edmond Sun

Business

December 17, 2012

Okla., La. leaders challenge federal ‘fracking’ rule

EDMOND — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are challenging a federal desire to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands, historically a state responsibility.  

Technological advances including the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques have helped U.S. producers develop previously economically unfeasible oil and gas resources.

The federal government owns nearly 650 million acres of land, almost 30 percent of the U.S. land area, according to nationalatlas.gov. There are about 275 Indian land areas in the U.S. administered as Indian reservations; the largest is the 16 million Navajo Reservation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Pockets of federal lands and Indian reservations exist in areas including northern, far eastern, far southeastern and southwest Oklahoma, according to a nationalatlas.gov map.

After a well is drilled a mixture containing mostly sand and water and a small amount of chemical additives is injected at a very high pressure to fracture shale, according to various industry sources. The mixture keeps the fractured rock open, providing paths through which oil and natural gas are extracted.

To ensure that neither the fluid nor the oil or gas enters the water supply, steel surface or intermediate casings are inserted into the well to depths of between 1,000 and 4,000 feet, according to the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry.

Currently, there is no specific requirement for operators to disclose these chemicals on federal and Indian lands, where about 90 percent of the wells drilled use hydraulic fracturing to greatly increase the volume of oil and gas available for production, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The proposed federal rule would require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing after operations have been completed on federal and Indian lands, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Pruitt said that for 40 years states have safely and effectively regulated hydraulic fracturing operations, including managing the recent shale energy revolution, Pruitt said.

Locally, the process is regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. A recent in-depth review by a multi-stakeholder team found that overall the state’s regulatory program is well-managed, professional and meets program objects.

Rig activity in the state increased by 40 percent during the previous year, according to the review, which was published in July 2011. When it was conducted, Oklahoma had 2,660 active operators and 137,800 active wells (43,600 natural gas, 83,700 oil and 10,500 injection/disposal) and thousands of miles of gathering and transmission lines.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has more than 35 rules regarding management of hydraulic fracturing, according to the OERB. Hydraulic fracturing has occurred here for more than 60 years. More than 100,000 wells have been drilled using the technology. No instances of related harm to groundwater have been reported in the state, according to the review.

“State regulators, not the federal government, are in the best position to understand the scientific and economic requirements of the industry without adding burdensome delays and more than $1 billion in unnecessary costs,” Pruitt said.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Pruitt, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, and Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, outlined multiple objections to the proposed rule that would strip states of their ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands.

The letter asks Obama, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Office of Management and Budget to withdraw the rule proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management because of the rule’s significant and destructive impacts on states, including lost investment, revenue and employment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency potential impacts to the environment include stress on surface and ground water supplies, contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters, adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells and air pollution caused by the release of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

In May 2012, the Bureau of Land Management published the proposed rule in the Federal Register. As of June 25, the BLM had received more than 170 comments on the proposed action.

marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108

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