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Ohio Utica Shale

Fifteen members of Congress urge BLM to strike balance

By Bob Downing Published: September 10, 2013
From U.S. Rep. Jared Pollis, D-Colorado, today:
 
WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Representative Jared Polis sent a comment letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel urging the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to strike a balance between oil and gas development and the protection of America’s clean air, water, public lands, and community health in its proposed hydraulic fracturing rule. He led a coalition of 14 other Members of Congress who all co-signed the letter.
 
The proposed rule, issued by the BLM on May 16, 2013, seeks to update the agency’s 30-year-old regulations that govern drilling on more than 750 million acres of federally managed mineral rights on public lands. Representative Polis’ letter specifically outlined four changes to the proposed rule strengthening environmental and public health protections, including: (1) protections for certain sensitive areas from drilling and buffers that ensure that drilling takes place safe distances from homes, schools, and water supplies; (2) requirements chemical disclosure before hydraulic fracturing occurs; (3) updates to well construction requirements; and (4) a ban on pits for storage.
 
“These are common sense measures to protect the health and safety of our communities near BLM lands. As sponsor of the BREATHE Act and a lead sponsor of the FRAC Act, I have long advocated for greater disclosure requirements, and I am hopeful that the BLM will advance a rule that better mandates such requirements so citizens will know what chemicals are in their water and air,” stated Representative Polis. “While this rule is a step in the right direction, Colorado gets an "F" for establishing a framework for fracking that protects homeowners and families; the state legislature needs to act on common sense measures.”
 
In the letter, Representative Polis commented that “the federal government is the nation’s largest mineral manager and it should hold the operators who drill on our public lands to the highest safety standards… Developing oil and natural gas resources is an important part of our nation’s energy and economic future but we need to make sure operators are drilling in a way that minimizes health and safety issues. Advanced technologies like directional drilling means that we can develop resources while reducing impact on communities, wildlife, and drinking water. The BLM has an opportunity to strengthen its rule and make sure that we develop the resources we need while protecting environmental and community health.”
 
As a vice-chair of Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), Representative Polis will continue to lead discussions on this issue with Members of Congress and Secretary Jewell in a meeting in the coming weeks.
 
The text of the letter follows:
 
September 10, 2013
 
The Honorable Sally Jewell
Secretary
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Jewell:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) revised proposed rule for regulating hydraulic fracturing issued May 16, 2013. Development of our nation’s oil and gas resources is an important part of our energy and economic future. At the same time, these natural resources must be extracted using the best available practices to protect America’s clean air, clean water, public lands, and community health.
 
The BLM’s proposed rule will update the agency’s 30-year-old regulations that govern hydraulic fracturing on more than 750 million acres of federally managed mineral rights on BLM, national forest, national wildlife refuges, and tribal lands. The proposed rule has three components: (1) chemical disclosure; (2) well integrity; and (3) produced water management. We have several concerns with the proposed rule that should be addressed before final publication to ensure that oil and gas developers on our public lands are held to the highest possible operation standards. The final BLM rule must strike a better balance between developing our natural resources and addressing environmental and public health risks.
 
  1. The BLM should protect sensitive areas and wildlife, and promote safe drilling practices.
  2.  
  3.  
Few studies address the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on public health and environment; more research and data are needed. However, numerous spills and other harmful incidents across the country indicate that drilling and hydraulic fracturing may impact our precious drinking water resources, clean air, and wildlife if the resource is not extracted correctly. We should preemptively protect drinking water, ecologically sensitive areas, and wildlife by carving out areas that are off-limits to hydraulic fracturing. In addition, the rule should require that hydraulic fracturing takes place a safe distance from homes, schools, drinking water wells, and public water supplies.
 
  1. The BLM should require chemical disclosure before hydraulic fracturing occurs.
  2.  
  3.  
Before drilling or hydraulic fracturing begins, the BLM should require operators to disclose what chemicals will be used during the hydraulic fracturing process. States like Wyoming already require advance disclosure and have not seen a decline in industry activity. Baseline water testing and ongoing water monitoring should be required, but if not, advance notice would allow people living near drilling and fracturing sites the opportunity to complete baseline water tests before hydraulic fracturing occurs. These tests are important to document changes in water quality, including when contamination occurs. Additionally, companies should be required to submit all chemical information to the BLM. Any information that is withheld from the public as a trade secret should be made available to health professionals and first responders upon immediate request when needed to protect health and safety.
  1. The BLM should update its well construction requirements.
  2.  
  3.  
 
Although the proposed rule offered new tests for mechanical integrity, it failed to update its well construction requirements. Improper well construction and mechanical well failures and attendant gas migration have also resulted in contamination events in a number of states, including Wyoming Laura Legere, Wyoming County well malfunction causes spill, evacuation, The Scranton Times Tribune, Mar. 15, 2013, available at http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/wyoming-county-well-malfunction-causes-spill-evacuation-1.1458575., Colorado Keith Coffman, Natural Gas Well Burst Kills One, Injures Three In Colorado, Reuters, Aug.15, 2012, available at http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/16/usa-natgas-colorado-idINL2E8JG0ZL20120816., West Virginia David Gutman, Doddridge County gas fracking explosion injures at least 7, The Charleston Gazette, July 7, 2013, available at http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201307070002., and Ohio OH DNR Letter to GWPC, May 27, 2009, available at http://energyindepth.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/gwpc-06-04-09.pdf, appendix. . The risk of such contamination events would be reduced if the rule holds the industry to the highest well integrity and construction standards. Additionally, the BLM should require cement evaluation logs for every well, not just “type wells,” and should require the results be submitted and reviewed before hydraulic fracturing is permitted.
  1. The BLM should ban the use of pits for storage.
  2.  
  3.  
Although the proposed rule bans the use of unlined pits for storage, the rule should go further and ban the use of open air pits entirely. States like New Mexico and North Dakota are moving away from the use of pits because open air pits may leak or spill leading to ground and surface water contamination and wildlife deaths. They also contribute to dangerous air pollution. The final rule should include strong requirements for management of wastewater using appropriate closed loop systems, tanks and other methods available instead of open air pits.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to comment on the revised proposed rule.
 
Sincerely,
 
Jared Polis Henry Waxman Chris Van Hollen
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
 
 
Paul Tonko Lois Capps Barbara Lee
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
 
Gerald E. Connolly Jim Moran Mike Quigley
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
 
Raúl Grijalva Earl Blumenauer Niki Tsongas
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
 
 
Matt Cartwright Jared Huffman Carol Shea-Porter
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
 
 
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