WASHINGTON, DC—Friday the Obama administration released its long-awaited rule governing fracking on federal public lands. While somewhat less damaging than as originally proposed, the plan fundamentally fails to protect America’s most prized forests and other natural areas from pollution.
The administration will not keep sensitive areas off limits to fracking, despite the Department of Energy’s own advisory panel advice to the contrary. The oil and gas industry has expressed interest in fracking 12 million more acres of parks, forests, and other public lands.
“Some places are just too precious to drill and frack, and that includes our parks, canyons, and forests,” said Rachel Richardson, advocate with Environment America. “That’s why Americans have submitted more than 1 million comments asking the administration to protect our prized public lands from fracking."
Today’s rule places no limits on the toxic and often carcinogenic chemicals than can be used in fracking. It allows oil and gas companies to disclose their chemical use exclusively on an industry-run website called FracFocus, and only after they have already started drilling.
“If the oil and gas industry is going to put our public lands at risk from dangerous drilling, the least they could do is follow the strictest regulations possible,” said Richardson. “But the administration isn’t requiring them to do that.”
Under contention for three years, the final rule modestly increases environmental protections compared to earlier versions. It restricts the use of open-air pits for storing toxic oil and gas wastewater, responsible for more than 400 instances of groundwater contamination in New Mexico alone. It also tightens standards for well construction.
“The rule released Friday could be worse. It could be more harmful to our health and the environment, and the administration deserves credit for making it less reckless,” said PennEnvironment Fracking Associate Lina Blount. “But make no mistake: Friday’s announcement is bad news for our forests and parks."
“Ultimately,” Blount concluded, “the only way to protect our health and communities from this dirty drilling practice is to ban it altogether.”