Federal fracking rules spark worries

2013-06-14T23:45:00Z 2013-06-21T11:45:05Z Federal fracking rules spark worriesBy ADAM VOGE Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 14, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

RIVERTON, Wyo. – State officials, active Wyoming producers and even a state representative of a federal agency all expressed concern Friday over how newly proposed federal rules for hydraulic fracturing would work.

In testimony before the state Legislature’s Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee in Riverton, representatives of the industry, state and federal government each said they had their concerns about the new rule for hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – a process in which chemicals, water and sand are pumped below ground in order to aid oil and natural gas production.

Expressing concern

Among those expressing concern was Michael Madrid, chief for fluid operations for Wyoming’s branch of the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency through which the rules were proposed.

Madrid told the committee he was concerned whether the BLM, which faced a series of recent budget cuts, could handle the additional work brought on by enforcing such a rule.

“The Wyoming state office commented on the rule, and that was one of our concerns: How are we going to implement this rule with budget cuts and with less people?” he said.

The federal standards would apply to fracking performed on federal land across the country, and include mandates for public disclosure of fracking ingredients and more stringent requirements for well integrity testing. The agency released the latest version of the rules last month after an initial draft in 2012.

Disclosure of chemicals

Many of the rules’ provisions are similar to Wyoming’s own set of fracking rules passed in 2010, which require disclosure of chemicals used in the process to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Wyoming oil and gas supervisor Grant Black told the committee that he had his own concerns about the BLM’s rules, including how they would mesh with Wyoming’s rules. Black believes Wyoming should be allowed to govern fracking inside its own borders.

“Oil and gas is a moving target,” he said. “To substantiate the need to stick with state rules – we can make our changes a whole lot quicker and more responsive to needs coming up.”

Several others – including representatives of the industry – told the committee of their concerns.

Nick Agopian, a representative of Devon Energy, said his company actively opposes the rules because of concerns over whether the BLM has scientifically justified the need for a rule, among other reasons.

Shane Schulz of QEP Resources mirrored Agopian’s comments.

“The version we’ve seen is better than the first version” of the rule, he said. “But making bad better doesn’t necessarily make good.”

Despite his comments about staffing, Madrid did express a need for updated BLM fracking rules.

“BLM’s current operations governing fracturing are more than 30 years old and do not address modern techniques,” he said, adding that a new rule would better cover health and environmental concerns.

Members of the committee, along with industry and trade group representatives, said they planned to submit comments on the rules. The federal agency last week extended its comment period until Aug. 23.

At least one representative of an environmental group also expressed concerns over the rules Friday.

“The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has done a great job in this state trying to take care of their obligation and responsibility to protect the state’s groundwater and viability,” said Richard Garrett, energy and legislative advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “It would be a shame to duplicate a process that’s well-established in the state.”

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