Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

New Rules for Fracking on Federal Lands

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Apr 07, 2015 the pace of fracking projects rises and falls with changes in oil prices, regulation of fracking develops at slower and steadier rates. This month, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has completed nearly five years of rulemaking by revising its rules for oil and gas production from federal and Indian lands, to add requirements for hydraulic fracturing projects. These rules update and expand drilling permit rules in place for three decades. BLM reports that production from over 100,000 onshore oil and gas wells on federally-managed land accounts for 11 percent of U.S. natural gas supply and five percent of its oil, and that over 90% of wells currently being drilled on these land involve hydraulic fracturing.

What is BLM’s Current Permit Process?

BLM administers extensive programs offering private developers leases to pursue oil and gas exploration and production on federal and Indian lands. Before conducting any surface-disturbing activities, leaseholders must obtain BLM approval. Drilling proposals are subject to the lease terms and stipulations, and must provide mitigation measures consistent with the lease rights. Individual drilling projects then proceed as follows:

  1. Leaseholder files an Application for a Permit to Drill (APD) with BLM.

  2. BLM posts notice of the APD, allowing 30 days for public comment.

  3. BLM evaluates the APD and any comments, and may then issue a permit to drill, which will include Conditions of Approval including:

    • Well construction conditions—e.g., casing, cement requirements.

    • Activity conditions—e.g. road construction, erosion controls, seasonal restrictions.

    • Baseline testing and ongoing monitoring conditions—e.g. water quality.

How is BLM Expanding Requirements For Fracking Projects?

BLM is establishing new requirements intended to ensure wellbore integrity, protect water quality, and enhance public disclosure of chemicals and other details of hydraulic fracturing operations. The rule requires an operator planning to conduct hydraulic fracturing to do the following:

  • Project Description. Submit detailed information about the proposed operation, including wellbore geology, any faults and fractures, depths of all usable water, estimated volume of fracking fluid to be used, and estimated direction and length of fractures.

  • Well Casing and Cement. Design and implement a casing and cementing program that follows best practices and meets performance standards to protect and isolate usable water (generally waters containing less than 10,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids (TDS)).

  • Construction Monitoring. Monitor cementing operations during well construction.

  • Remedial Action. Take remedial action if there are indications of inadequate cementing, and demonstrate success to BLM.

  • Integrity Test. Perform a successful mechanical integrity test (MIT) prior to the hydraulic fracturing operation.

  • Monitoring During Fracking. Monitor annulus pressure during hydraulic fracturing operations.

  • Fluid Management. Manage recovered fluids in rigid enclosed, covered or netted and screened above-ground storage tanks (exceptions are available).

  • Fracking Chemical Disclosure. Disclose the chemicals used to BLM and the public (limited exceptions for trade secrets)—through the existing FracFocus website (or another system BLM may assign). 

  • Documentation. Provide documentation of all of the above actions to BLM.

During its rulemaking process, BLM consulted with states and tribes, seeking to identify and address concerns, develop rules that reflect “best practices,” and develop mechanisms for inter-governmental coordination (for one comparison, readers may want to visit my summary of California’s fracking rules, here and here).

The revised rules become effective on June 24, 2015.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Does my organization conduct drilling and production activities involving petroleum and/or natural gas on federal or tribal lands?

    • If so, does my organization inject water and/or other materials to stimulate production?

    • If so, does my organization presently comply with applicable permit regulations enforced by BLM?

If my organization intends to apply to conduct drilling and production activities involving petroleum and/or natural gas on federal or tribal lands on or after June 24, 2015, is it preparing to comply with BLM’s new requirements?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

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About the Author Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 12 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

photo credit: CSG site, near Casino, NSW, May 2011 via photopin (license)

Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, EHS, EPA, Greenhouse Gas, fracking, hydraulic fracking