According to recent reports, the United States Government is on its way to imposing new mandates on natural gas wells located on public lands. U.S. officials say they will be rewriting badly outdated regulations that have not kept up with the times. According to Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, the government could roll out its proposal to stiffen oversight of natural gas production on roughly 700 million acres of public lands within the next couple of months.
Reportedly, Interior Department officials are still drafting the proposal. Sources say they are expected to require energy producers to be more open with techniques they use to extract natural gas. Specifically, sources say the government is looking to learn more about the chemicals producers are using when hydraulically fracturing sites. Industry sources say hydraulic fracturing is an extraction technique that involves blasting mixtures of water, sand, and other materials deep underground to break up dense shale rock formations and unlock trapped oil and natural gas.
Mr. Hays has said that “our current regulations are in many ways outdated, they were written in 1982, and they do not reflect the significant advances in hydraulic fracturing technology that have occurred in the last 30 years.” According to Hays, the new rule would require operators to fully disclose the chemicals used in hydraulically fracturing wells drilled on public lands, with protections for trade secrets and proprietary information. Reportedly, Hays’ statements mirrors what is happening at the state level and voluntarily, as regulators in Texas and other regions adopt mandates forcing disclosure.
However, sources say the Interior Department is looking to go further. Reportedly, the new regulation would do more to verify the integrity of wells once they are hydraulically fractured and stepping up oversight of how companies are managing water used and produced at the sites.
Currently, sources say the Bureau of Land Management standards for the integrity of wells at the initial stages of development. However, Hayes says the Interior Department is looking to expand them to handle integrity issues that can come up when the wells are later used as the basis for fracking.
Sources say the Interior Department is also considering extending its existing water management requirements, which apply only to waters produced during the development process, to the fluids that flow back during hydraulic fracturing operations. Reportedly, the government already requires energy producers to explain what is happening with produced waters that come up with oil and gas itself from wells on public land. However, sources say the Bureau of Land Management does not yet have similar requirements for flowback water that literally flows back out of the well after frac fluids are blasted underground. Ultimately, sources say the developing requirement could boil down to the Bureau of Land Management asking developers to detail their plan for disposal or recycling of flowback waters and not the composition of them.
According to Industry sources, flowback water can be recycled and used for future hydraulic fracturing operations, but sometimes is sent to wastewater treatment plants. Sources say that federal regulators and conservationists have become concerned about the disposal of that water considering that these treatment plants are generally not equipped to treat the fluid or remove naturally occurring radioactive substances that the water can carry out of the ground.