Why the new federal fracking rules won’t change much about fracking in America

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

After years in the works, the White House will finally release rules on Friday to regulate hydraulic fracturing more commonly known as fracking, according to The Wall Street Journal.


But the rules will only apply to fracking done on federal lands, which account for 11 percent of the natural gas and 5 percent of the oil used in the U.S., the Journal notes. (And not all of that gets extracted through fracking, which involves shooting enormous volumes of water into the ground to free up hydrocarbons.) States are still in charge of most of America’s fracking.

The agency that made the rules—the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, or BLM—ended up receiving 1.3 million comments on its draft rule proposal. So, lots of people are still going to be watching.

“They can help to set the tone for what a good regulatory framework looks like,” Mark Brownstein, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s climate and energy program, told Fusion. The regulations will govern wells, wastewater disposal and chemical disclosure.

But Brownstein’s group, EDF, saw an initial proposal of the rules and had three major problems with it.  of an initial proposal.

— Well integrity

EDF said the draft rules lacked sufficient detail about how the cement wells that allow oil and gas to travel up to the ground are constructed and inspected. The government must “ensure casing is set where it’s needed, operators are getting good cement jobs and the whole system is checked for mechanical integrity at critical points in the well development process,” the group said.


— Chemical disclosure

EDF criticized BLM being too weak on trade secrets and their policing. To make sure they’re not being abused, there must be a clear path to challenging companies when they assert trade secret protections.


— Wastewater disposal

While all three issues are important, this one has featured in the news most heavily in recent months, as wastewater injection wells have been linked to earthquakes, especially ones in Oklahoma. In its draft, BLM only called on companies to submit a plan for how they will dispose of the water, rather than what must be in that plan.


On the other side, the oil and gas industry said the draft rule went too far, so they’re unlikely to find much to their liking in the final version. On Thursday, Sen. John Barroso told Politico that he is “likely to oppose whatever” the BLM decides, although Congress won't get to vote on the rules.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.