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New Oil and Gas Requirements a Good Start but Could Be Better

New Oil and Gas Requirements a Good Start but Could Be Better

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While steps to strengthen federal oversight of oil and gas development represent a good start, both the Bureau of Land Management and EPA plans have shortcomings that the agencies should address, writes Tom Kenworthy.
While steps to strengthen federal oversight of oil and gas development represent a good start, both the Bureau of Land Management and EPA plans have shortcomings that the agencies should address, writes Tom Kenworthy.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Jun 25, 2012
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1Center for American Progress | New Oil and Gas Requirements a Good Start but Could Be Better
New Oil and Gas Requirementsa Good Start but Could Be Better
EPA, Interior Seek Better Handle on Fracking and Pollution
By Tom Kenworthy June 2012
Introduction
Moving on wo rons o proec public healh, saey, and he environmen, he Obamaadminisraion has recenly ighened rules governing oil and gas developmen. Whilehe direcives covering drilling aciviies on public lands and imposing new air pollu-ion requiremens on all new wells saring in 2015 are welcome, he Deparmen o heInerior and he Environmenal Proecion Agency should go even urher in order oassure he public ha he adminisraions sel-syled “all-o-he-above” energy develop-men sraegy is carried ou responsibly.In his Sae o he Union address in January, Presiden Barack Obama enhusiasically embraced he poenial economic and environmenal benes o exploiing he naionshuge reserves o naural gas.
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Bu he also promised o “develop his resource wihouputing he healh and saey o our ciizens a risk.Le unsaid by he presiden were he public concerns promping ha promise.
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Along wih he remarkable surge in naural gas drilling, sparked by big new discoveries o naural gas and oil locked in shale rock ormaions, have come ears ha he hydraulicracuring echnology, commonly reerred o as racking, o unlock hose deposis may hreaen public waer supplies. In addiion, new scienic sudies on naural gas havecalled ino quesion he convenional wisdom ha gas is ar superior o coal in erms o is greenhouse gas ooprin because o subsanial mehane releases during he develop-men o wells and he ransmission o produced gas.o help allay some o hose concerns, he ederal Bureau o Land Managemen, or BLM,has proposed new rules or drilling on public lands.
3
Tose rules are designed o bringmore ransparency abou he chemicals used in hydraulic racuring, o sien oversigh
 
2Center for American Progress | New Oil and Gas Requirements a Good Start but Could Be Better
o well consrucion o ensure he inegriy o oil and gas wells, and o help ensure haliquids ha fow back o he surace during he iniial phase o producion are properly moniored and reaed. A he same ime, he EPA has proposed new direcives o proec he public rom airpolluans oen released during oil and gas producion,
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which will signicanly reduceemissions o mehane, oxic chemicals such as benzene, and volaile organic compoundsha help orm ozone, or smog. While hese seps o srenghen ederal oversigh o oil and gas developmen represena good sar, boh he Bureau o Land Managemen and EPA plans have shorcomingsha he agencies should address.
Fracking rules on public lands
Te Bureau o Land Managemen, an agency in he Inerior Deparmen, manages hemineral resources on abou 750 million acres o ederal and ribal lands, and privaelands where landowners own he surace bu no he mineral righs. Approximaely 3,400 wells per year are drilled on hese lands using hydraulic racur-ing—he high-pressure injecion o a fuid mix o waer, sand, and chemicals o crack rock ormaions so he gas and/or oil rapped wihin can be easily brough o hesurace. In combinaion wih direcional drilling echniques, racking has opened up vasnew reserves o naural gas and oil previously locked in underground shale ormaions.Te Bureau o Land Managemen’s exising rules governing racking dae o 1982 andhave no been updaed since 1988, well beore he widespread adopion o new ech-nologies by he indusry and he recen shale gas developmens.Te rapid and large expansion o shale gas producion in recen years in ormaionsacross a wide swah o he Unied Saes sreching rom New York sae o exas has brough wih i growing public concerns ha racking may be impacing boh under-ground and surace waer supplies. I has promped demands ha governmen requireoil and gas companies o disclose he chemicals used in he process. Pressure has also been mouning o impose ougher requiremens on well consrucion o ensure hahose chemicals and naural gas don’ escape rom he well underground, and on hehandling o so-called “fowback” liquids, including he racking fuids ha reurn o hesurace when gas producion begins.
 
3Center for American Progress | New Oil and Gas Requirements a Good Start but Could Be Better
Te Bureau o Land Managemen’s proposed rules would require oil and gas opera-ors o disclose he chemicals hey use, impose a range o requiremens on esing heinegriy o heir well consrucion so gas and chemicals don’ migrae ino underground waer supplies, and keep beter rack o fowback wasewaer. Bu here are gaps in heproposed rules, including:
•
Te disclosure o racking fuid chemicals would come only aer he racuring is com-pleed. Ta would preven landowners rom doing baseline esing o heir domesic waer wells ahead o ime or chemicals ha are o be used in he racuring operaion,inormaion ha could be used o help deermine i here’s a link beween waer con-aminaion and he rack job.
•
Operaors mus repor o he Bureau o Land Managemen how hey plan o manageand dispose o fowback liquids. Bu hey are given he opion o soring fowback liq-uids in eiher enclosed anks or open, hough lined, pis. Soring hose liquids in piscan more easily lead o spills and conaminaion o waer and soils.
•
 While he Bureau o Land Managemen requires esing o well inegriy, i has nooulined any updaed design and consrucion requiremens. Addiionally, he Whie House sen a signal las week ha i will be doing more oaccommodae he oil and gas indusry beore he rules are nalized. Heaher Zichal, hepresiden’s op energy and climae advisor, said he commen period on he proposedrules will be exended “in response o concerns we have heard rom indusry.”
EPA’s oil and gas air pollution rules
On he heels o a consen decree in a lawsui brough by environmenal groups, he EPA in April unveiled new regulaions o cu air polluion semming rom oil and gas opera-ions, including he rs-ever ederal air sandards governing gas wells ha are hydrauli-cally racured. Wih nearly 13,000 gas wells being racured or reracured each year in he UniedSaes, he indusry is a major source o air polluion, producing large quaniies o vola-ile organic compounds, or VOCs, ha conribue o smog, oxic chemicals like ben-zene, and mehane—he main consiuen o naural gas—a greenhouse gas more han20 imes as poen as carbon dioxide. Te EPA esimaes ha he oil and gas indusry isresponsible or almos 40 percen o all mehane emissions in he Unied Saes.Much o his air polluion comes immediaely aer racking is compleed and beore pro-ducion is underway, as fowback brings fuids, waer, and gas o he surace.

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