The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the EPA have proposed separate federal regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," of oil and gas wells drilled on federal or Native American tribal lands.
What is Fracking? Used since the late 1940s, hydraulic fracturing is a process in which various fluids and chemicals are injected into the earth under high pressure in order to release trapped oil and gas from underground rock formations. During the fracking operation, specially designed "casings" are used to ensure the fluids are completely contained within the well-bore hole.
Done only after the well has been drilled to its intended depth, fracking can increase the well's production by up to 100%.
While water and sand make up from 98 to 99 percent of the fluids used in the process, the increased use of fracking in recent years has created public concern about possible contamination of ground water, and whether the "flowback" fluids that return to the surface during and after the operation are being safely managed.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates that about 90% (approximately 3,400 wells per year) of wells currently drilled on federal and Indian tribal lands are stimulated using hydraulic fracturing.
The regulation proposed by the DOI would require oil and gas production companies to disclose the specific chemicals used during fracking, but only after the process had been completed. In addition the rule would strengthen requirements on drillers to verify that fluids used in wells during fracturing operations are not escaping; and confirm that oil and gas companies have a water management plan in place for handling fracturing fluids that flow back to the surface.
"As we continue to offer millions of acres of America's public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a press release. "The proposed rule will modernize our management of well stimulation activities--including hydraulic fracturing--to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices."
The EPA's proposed regulation deals with the use of diesel fuel in the fracking process. The goal of the EPA's rule is to improve compliance by oil and gas producers with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requirements and strengthen existing environmental protections involving the fracking process.
The rule is intended to close what environmentalists dubbed the "Halliburton loophole" created in 2005 when Congress passed a bill exempting fracking from the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The bill was backed by leading fracking services provider Halliburton Company, while under the control of Richard Cheney before he became vice president.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an average of less than 32% of all oil produced annually in the United States comes from lands owned and controlled by the federal government. Currently, the federal government controls oil and gas production on about 2.5 billion acres of land and offshore zones, including the 1.7 billion acre U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.
Keystone Comeback? In a related event, the U.S. State Department reported that it had received a new application to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canada to refineries in the United States.