The proposed rules also expand the scope of water protected from drilling to include not just fresh water but all "usable water" 2013 meaning lower quality water used for agriculture and construction, as well as water that can be treated to make potable. Currently, only water with up to 5,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids is protected by the BLM. The new rules would expand that definition to include water with up to 10,000 parts per million, which matches the EPA's definition for an underground source of drinking water.
"The proposed rule will modernize our management of well stimulation activities 2013 including hydraulic fracturing 2013 to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement.
The lands covered by the proposed rules are the source of "11 percent of the Nation's natural gas supply and five percent of its oil," according to the BLM. About 3,400 wells are drilled on these lands each year, according to the bureau, and 90 percent of those wells use hydraulic fracturing, a technique to extract natural gas by injecting into the earth highly pressurized fluids laden with chemicals, sometimes including potentially toxic ones such as benzene and lead.
Environmental activists wonder how likely the rules are to be enforced. In New Mexico, for example, the BLM oversees more than 30,000 active wells 2013 with only 69 inspectors. "However strong the rules are, enforcement is only as good as staff on the ground," said attorney Erik Schlenker-Goodrich of the Western Environmental Law Center.
Environmentalists also lambasted a provision that would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use to frack on some public lands. At issue was timing: The draft rule would allow companies to complete drilling before they make public the chemicals they had injected into the ground. Although some drilling companies report the chemicals they use to online public registries, they are not always required to do so. Many drillers claim that disclosure would amount to revealing "trade secrets."
The timing of disclosure matters. Landowners who want to see if a nearby well is polluting their land or water need a baseline assessment of chemicals that are present before drilling. If they don't know the chemicals the company will inject, the only way to get a baseline reading is to test for a vast number of chemicals, an expensive and impractical undertaking.
"Knowing after the fact is nice, but does not allow for any steps to be taken if the chemicals being used are of concern to the public. I urge the Interior Department to strengthen this rule," Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) said in a statement. Hinchey co-authored national legislation to give the EPA the power to monitor all fracking activities in the U.S., which under current law the agency cannot regulate.