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Letter to Sally Jewell, Secretary Department of Interior - Safety and Environmental Requirements for Hydraulic Fracturing

Today, Representative Jared Polis sent a comment letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel urging the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to strike a balance between oil and gas development and the protection of America's clean air, water, public lands, and community health in its proposed hydraulic fracturing rule. He led a coalition of 14 other Members of Congress who all co-signed the letter.

The proposed rule, issued by the BLM on May 16, 2013, seeks to update the agency's 30-year-old regulations that govern drilling on more than 750 million acres of federally managed mineral rights on public lands. Representative Polis' letter specifically outlined four changes to the proposed rule strengthening environmental and public health protections, including: (1) protections for certain sensitive areas from drilling and buffers that ensure that drilling takes place safe distances from homes, schools, and water supplies; (2) requirements chemical disclosure before hydraulic fracturing occurs; (3) updates to well construction requirements; and (4) a ban on pits for storage.

"These are common sense measures to protect the health and safety of our communities near BLM lands. As sponsor of the BREATHE Act and a lead sponsor of the FRAC Act, I have long advocated for greater disclosure requirements, and I am hopeful that the BLM will advance a rule that better mandates such requirements so citizens will know what chemicals are in their water and air," stated Representative Polis. "While this rule is a step in the right direction, Colorado gets an "F" for establishing a framework for fracking that protects homeowners and families; the state legislature needs to act on common sense measures."

In the letter, Representative Polis commented that "[d]evelopment of our nation's oil and gas resources is an important part of our energy and economic future. At the same time, these natural resources must be extracted using the best available practices to protect America's clean air, clean water, public lands, and community health . . . . The final BLM rule must strike a better balance between developing our natural resources and addressing environmental and public health risks."

As a vice-chair of Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), Representative Polis will continue to lead discussions on this issue with Members of Congress and Secretary Jewell in a meeting in the coming weeks.

The text of the letter follows:

September 10, 2013

The Honorable Sally Jewell
Secretary
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Jewell:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) revised proposed rule for regulating hydraulic fracturing issued May 16, 2013. Development of our nation's oil and gas resources is an important part of our energy and economic future. At the same time, these natural resources must be extracted using the best available practices to protect America's clean air, clean water, public lands, and community health.

The BLM's proposed rule will update the agency's 30-year-old regulations that govern hydraulic fracturing on more than 750 million acres of federally managed mineral rights on BLM, national forest, national wildlife refuges, and tribal lands. The proposed rule has three components: (1) chemical disclosure; (2) well integrity; and (3) produced water management. We have several concerns with the proposed rule that should be addressed before final publication to ensure that oil and gas developers on our public lands are held to the highest possible operation standards. The final BLM rule must strike a better balance between developing our natural resources and addressing environmental and public health risks.

I. The BLM should protect sensitive areas and wildlife, and promote safe drilling practices.

Few studies address the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on public health and environment; more research and data are needed. However, numerous spills and other harmful incidents across the country indicate that drilling and hydraulic fracturing may impact our precious drinking water resources, clean air, and wildlife if the resource is not extracted correctly. We should preemptively protect drinking water, ecologically sensitive areas, and wildlife by carving out areas that are off-limits to hydraulic fracturing. In addition, the rule should require that hydraulic fracturing takes place a safe distance from homes, schools, drinking water wells, and public water supplies.

II. The BLM should require chemical disclosure before hydraulic fracturing occurs.

Before drilling or hydraulic fracturing begins, the BLM should require operators to disclose what chemicals will be used during the hydraulic fracturing process. States like Wyoming already require advance disclosure and have not seen a decline in industry activity. Baseline water testing and ongoing water monitoring should be required, but if not, advance notice would allow people living near drilling and fracturing sites the opportunity to complete baseline water tests before hydraulic fracturing occurs. These tests are important to document changes in water quality, including when contamination occurs. Additionally, companies should be required to submit all chemical information to the BLM. Any information that is withheld from the public as a trade secret should be made available to health professionals and first responders upon immediate request when needed to protect health and safety.

III. The BLM should update its well construction requirements.

Although the proposed rule offered new tests for mechanical integrity, it failed to update its well construction requirements. Improper well construction and mechanical well failures and attendant gas migration have also resulted in contamination events in a number of states, including Wyoming[1], Colorado[2], West Virginia[3], and Ohio[4]. The risk of such contamination events would be reduced if the rule holds the industry to the highest well integrity and construction standards. Additionally, the BLM should require cement evaluation logs for every well, not just "type wells," and should require the results be submitted and reviewed before hydraulic fracturing is permitted.

IV. The BLM should ban the use of pits for storage.

Although the proposed rule bans the use of unlined pits for storage, the rule should go further and ban the use of open air pits entirely. States like New Mexico and North Dakota are moving away from the use of pits because open air pits may leak or spill leading to ground and surface water contamination and wildlife deaths. They also contribute to dangerous air pollution. The final rule should include strong requirements for management of wastewater using appropriate closed loop systems, tanks and other methods available instead of open air pits.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to comment on the revised proposed rule.

Sincerely,

Jared Polis Member of Congress
Henry Waxman Member of Congress
Chris Van Hollen Member of Congress
Paul Tonko Member of Congress
Lois Capps Member of Congress
Barbara Lee Member of Congress
Gerald E. Connolly Member of Congress
Jim Moran Member of Congress
Mike Quigley Member of Congress
Raúl Grijalva Member of Congress
Earl Blumenauer Member of Congress
Niki Tsongas Member of Congress
Matt Cartwright Member of Congress
Jared Huffman Member of Congress
Carol Shea-Porter Member of Congress


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