Last week, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) issued new regulations for oil and gas operations that use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on federal and Indian lands. The announcement came just four days after EO published its draft EO100 for Shale Oil and Gas standards, a supplement to the foundational EO100 Standard, for operations that use fracking. Both announcements were significant and novel steps toward making fracking operations safer for people and the environment, but each takes a unique approach and applies to a different scope of impacts from shale development and fracking. How are they alike and how are they different? We took an initial look at the DOI’s fracking rule (which falls under the purview of its sub-agency, the Bureau of Land Management or BLM), and came up with some answers to those questions.
First, it’s important to note that the BLM rule is the first time the U.S. federal government has created new regulations specifically for oil and gas operations that use fracking. Fracking and associated activities are exempt from certain federal environmental laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act, and are regulated primarily at the state level. These state regulations vary widely in their stringency and scope, so the first nationwide regulations on shale development and fracking could prove valuable in making disparate state rules more consistent. However, the new rule only applies to lands owned by the federal government and lands owned by Indian tribes. While these areas are substantial—according to the DOI, there are currently 95,000 oil and gas wells on federal land—they only account for about 10 percent of U.S. oil and gas development. The other 90 percent--about 900,000 wells--takes place on private land. The EO standards for shale development and fracking are by design broadly applicable and international. Once finalized, they will serve, in combination with EO100 Standard, as the criteria for certifying responsibly-operated shale development sites, whether those sites are on public or private land, inside or outside of the U.S. Like the BLM rule, the EO100 for Shale Oil and Gas is the first of its kind: a set of voluntary standards developed independently of the oil and gas industry, but with the consultation of diverse stakeholders, including industry veterans. The current EO100 for Shale is a draft version in the second week of a 60-day public comment period, with a final version expected in July of this year; the DOI rule is the final version (the product of almost three years of public comment and revision) that goes into effect in 90 days.
The DOI rule regulates fracking and shale development activities in three areas: well integrity, wastewater management, and chemical disclosure. The draft EO100 also includes standards in these areas, and the content of the two documents in these categories is similar:
While the BLM rule addresses leading environmental concerns associated with shale development and fracking, it does not cover social concerns—impacts on communities from shale development operations and related activities. In contrast, the EO100 for Shale Oil and Gas does include social standards, following the framework of the EO100 Standard. A few examples of EO100 for Shale social performance standards:
As governmental regulation, the BLM rule is much more detailed and specific in the three areas it applies to, while the voluntary standards of the EO100 for Shale apply to a broader range of development impacts and are less specific in their requirements.
Whatever their differences and similarities, the EO100 for Shale Oil and Gas standards and the BLM rule for fracking on federal and Indian Lands are both important milestones in the process of developing clear and consistent standards for responsible shale development. Far from being competing standards, the two have great potential to guide and complement each other in the quest to make fracking and shale development that’s happening today and will happen tomorrow safer for people and the environment.