On September 30, 2014, a block of twelve Democratic U.S. Senators presented a letter to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), urging stricter fracking regulations.  The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), an agency within the Department of the Interior, is authoring the federal regulations for fracking on public and Indian lands.  The BLM submitted its final regulations to the OMB for inter-agency review on August 26, 2014.

The twelve Democrats claim that the currently proposed rules do not provide strong enough protections for the environment and human health.  These claims come in spite of the stricter revised proposed rules.  The revised rules require disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on public land and Indian land, strengthened regulations related to well-bore integrity, and address issues related to flowback water.  Interestingly, the letter comes just weeks after two studies were published concluding that fracking is not linked to groundwater contamination.  One study was authored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the other was jointly issued by Ohio State University, Duke University and the University of Rochester.

The Democratic Senators’ letter demands the “strongest possible” regulations for hydraulic fracturing.  Among their specific requests, the letter calls for the creation of a searchable database to house chemical disclosures for public access, consistent water quality monitoring requirements at fracking sites, and strict worker safety standards.

If the regulations are finalized in accordance with the Democratic demands, the oil and gas industry would be forced to make public their chemical usage.  This would put a strain on the industry in terms of the time necessary for information disclosure, and could lead to issues with trade secret protections.  The Western Energy Alliance estimates that the regulations will add a cost of about $97,000 per new well, substantially increasing the cost of mineral development.  Further, the natural gas industry states that these regulations are redundant because it has already made significant improvements in well-bore integrity.

This rulemaking process has been ongoing for more than two years.  On May 11, 2012, the BLM published the initial proposed rule in the Federal Register: “Oil and Gas; Well Stimulation, Including Hydraulic Fracturing, on Federal and Indian Lands,” available here.  When finalized, these proposed rules represent the first time in more than 30 years that the BLM has updated its fracking regulations.

By Mike Mills (mnmills@stoel.com) and Shannon Morrissey.  Ms. Morrissey is a Law Clerk with Stoel Rives LLP and is not currently licensed to practice law in California.