The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) recently filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental activists who have challenged the BLM’s Resource Management Plan (“RMP”) for public lands and minerals in California managed by the Bakersfield Field Office.  The activists asked a California federal judge to strike down the BLM’s RMP, claiming that the BLM never considered the effect of “unconventional drilling methods,” such as hydraulic fracturing on the land.

The BLM responded by pointing out that hydraulic fracturing is not a new, unproven technology and has been routinely used in California for over 50 years. It is estimated that only 25% of new wells in the Bakersfield planning area are expected to undergo hydraulic fracturing.  Furthermore, the BLM noted that 98% of new wells on federal mineral lands in the planning area are projected to be drilled on existing leases that have been producing for over 30 years and not on pristine, undisturbed lands.

The activists claimed that the BLM failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts associated with fracking as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). However, any claim that the BLM did not comply with NEPA in developing the RMP is particularly weak under these facts.  The BLM developed a comprehensive, 1,000-page environmental impact statement (“EIS”).  Additionally, before issuing a final decision, BLM commissioned an independent review of well stimulation technologies in California to ensure that its EIS accurately reflected the potential impacts of fracking.  And finally, the independent review concluded that overall, the direct environmental impacts of well stimulation practice are relatively limited in California.
Continue Reading BLM Fights Back Against Activists’ Criticisms of CA Resource Management Plan

On Friday, January 22, 2016 the federal Department of the Interior’s (“DOI”) Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued a proposed rule on reducing waste and methane emissions in oil and gas operations.  The rule would limit oil and gas flaring, venting, and leaking on federal and Indian lands.  While the U.S. has become the largest natural gas producer in the world and U.S. oil production is at its highest level in nearly 30 years, the current regulations  hearken back to the mid-1980’s, when gas production and greenhouse gas concerns were very different than they are today.

The proposed rule is composed of “commonsense and cost-effective measures,” according to Janice Schneider, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management.  Broadly, the proposed rule would require operators to adopt currently available technologies in order to limit the rate of flaring at oil wells, and would require operators to inspect for leaks and replace equipment that vents methane emissions into the air.Continue Reading BLM Proposes “Commonsense” Rule to Limit Methane Emissions from Oil & Gas Operations

On January 20, Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz unveiled a “discussion draft” of the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act. The proposed bill undertakes the difficult task of balancing economic development and conservation on public land in the State of Utah.

Congressmen Bishop and Chaffetz began working together on the bill in February 2013. Since that time, more than 120 different stakeholders have submitted more than 65 detailed proposals regarding land management in eastern Utah. Altogether, their offices have held more than 1,200 meetings with local and tribal leaders, interested parties, and subject matter experts.

The bill is organized in two parts: “Division A” covers land protection and conservation and “Division B” covers recreation and economic development opportunities.

Division A creates forty-one new wilderness areas covering 2,274,373 acres of federal land. Wilderness is a legal designation designed to provide long-term protection and conservation of public lands. Wilderness areas are protected and managed so as to preserve the area’s natural surroundings in an unimpaired condition. Generally, motor vehicles and mechanical transport are prohibited in wilderness areas. However, the proposed bill makes certain exceptions for maintaining grazing facilities and access to water resource facilities.
Continue Reading Utah Congressmen Unveil Landmark Public Land Bill

Two lawsuits were filed within days of each other in Oklahoma, claiming that energy companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing and underground disposal of produced water are causing earthquakes throughout the state. These lawsuits probably come as no surprise to the industry after the Sierra Club recently threatened to sue four oil companies for contributing to increased earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

A pair of Oklahoma residents, in a class-action lawsuit, have accused four energy companies of causing “a dramatic increase” in earthquakes throughout the state during the last five years. The lawsuit names Sandridge Exploration and Production, Chesapeake Operating, Devon Energy Production Company, and New Dominion as the defendants.

The plaintiffs claim that hydraulic fracturing and underground disposal of produced water are causing earthquakes across the state by increasing the pore pressure within faults making the fault more prone to slip.

The lawsuit alleges that the companies are liable to the plaintiffs and the class for nuisance, trespass, negligence, and engaging in an ultra-hazardous activity. The plaintiffs are seeking not only compensatory damages, but also punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
Continue Reading Two Frackquake Lawsuits Filed in Oklahoma

On October 8, the National Wildlife Federation (“NWF”) fulfilled its promise to sue the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”). The lawsuit alleges that for 20 years the DOT has allowed pipelines to operate illegally by failing to issue regulations under section 311(j) of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), which requires pipeline operators to submit plans

On July 28, 2015, the National Wildlife Federation (“NWF”) filed an intent to sue notice against the Department of Transportation (“DOT”), arguing the DOT has not properly approved pipeline projects for more than 20 years.

The legal action carries nationwide implications: Every U.S. oil pipeline that intersects a navigable water may soon be subject to additional regulations.

Specifically, NWF contends that DOT has failed to issue regulations under section 311(j) of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), requiring an owner or operator of a pipeline to prepare and submit a facility response plan (“FRP”) detailing response actions to be taken in the event of a worst-case discharge of oil or hazardous substances into waters of the United States.
Continue Reading Pipeline Operators Take Heed – Threatened Enviro Lawsuit May Lead to Greater Regulatory Requirements

On Wednesday, August 26, a coalition of environmental groups threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) if the regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) are not updated to restrict the disposal of waste associated with oil and gas production.

The coalition specifically asked the EPA to review and revise the RCRA regulations pursuant to the statutory mandate found in sections 2002(b) and 4002(b) of RCRA. Under these sections, the EPA must review and revise RCRA regulations and guidelines “no less frequently than every three years.” (42 U.S.C. §§ 6912(b), 6942(b).)

RCRA was enacted in 1976 to govern the disposal of solid waste. Solid waste is broken down into (1) hazardous solid waste and (2) non-hazardous solid waste. The most notable provisions of RCRA are included in Subtitle C, which directs the EPA to establish controls on the management of hazardous wastes from their point of generation, through their transportation and treatment, storage and/or disposal.
Continue Reading Activists Threaten to Sue if EPA doesn’t Update RCRA Regs to Cover Oil & Gas Industry

On August 18, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released proposed regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and gas facilities. These first-ever proposed standards are a key part of a broader strategy, under the President’s Climate Action Plan, to cut methane emissions in the sector by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels in the next decade.

Building on its 2012 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for VOC emissions for the oil and natural gas industry, EPA’s proposed updates would require that the industry also reduce methane emissions. Sources already subject to the 2012 NSPS requirements for VOC reductions, which would also be covered by the proposed 2015 methane requirements, would not have to install additional controls, because the controls to reduce VOCs reduce both pollutants. Although the three-year-old mandates targeted VOCs at the sites, the approach cut methane emissions as a side benefit.

The new proposal would go further, requiring methane and VOC reductions from hydraulically fractured oil wells, too. And, the new plan would extend those emission-cutting requirements further downstream to natural gas transmission and processing equipment.
Continue Reading U.S. EPA Proposes New Rules to Curb Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Sector

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released a long awaited, and congressionally mandated, study detailing the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. The EPA found no signs of “widespread, systemic” drinking water pollution from hydraulic fracturing.

“It is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date,” says Dr. Thomas Burke, with the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, “including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports.”

“After more than five years and millions of dollars, the evidence gathered by EPA confirms what the agency has already acknowledged and what the oil and gas industry has known,” said Erik Milito, with the American Petroleum Institute. “Hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices.”
Continue Reading EPA Finds No Systemic Threat to Drinking Water from Fracking

Three states have recently taken a stand for or against controversial bans on hydraulic fracturing. Oklahoma, Texas, and Maryland have all passed laws within the past month relating to hydraulic fracturing bans.

Oklahoma

Last Friday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 809, which prohibits local governments from choosing whether to have oil and gas operations within their jurisdictions. Oklahoma’s law allows exceptions for “reasonable” restrictions for setbacks, noise, traffic issues and fencing. Governor Fallin said “A patchwork of regulations that vary across the state would be inconsistent with the goal of reasonable, easily understood regulations and could damage the state’s economy and environment.” Senate Bill 809 reaffirms that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is the primary entity charged with establishing a unified regulatory framework for the energy industry. Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, said “This bill was a good compromise for all involved. It maintains the Corporation Commission’s role in regulating oil and gas activities, without limiting cities’ ability to protect their residents.” Senate Bill 809 passed with wide margins in both the House and the Senate.
Continue Reading States Show Their True Colors on Fracking – One Enacts a Ban, While Two Others Prohibit All Local Bans