A proposed rule on hydraulic fracking from the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management is now online. As of May 24, the comment period has begun, although the American Petroleum Institue is pressuring Interior to slow down the fracking rule.
You can read the proposed rule and comment at Regulations.gov, which was relaunched last year with an eye on public participation in rulemaking.
While the closely watched regulation has drawn qualified praise from the oil and gas industry, it includes a notable flaw with respect to how technology is used to oversee fracking. The Center for Effective Government is arguing that the BLM fracking rule violates the recent White House executive order on open data:
…instead of establishing a modern example of government information collection and sharing, BLM’s proposed rule would allow drilling companies to report the chemicals used in fracking to a third-party, industry-funded website, called FracFocus.org, which does not provide data in machine-readable formats. FracFocus.org only allows users to download PDF files of reports on fracked wells. Because PDF files are not machine-readable, the site makes it very difficult for the public to use and analyze data on wells and chemicals that the government requires companies to collect and make available.
Although FracFocus.org has recently improved some of its search features, the oil and gas industry opposes making chemical data easier to download or evaluate for fear that the public “might misinterpret it or use it for political purposes.” (subscription required) Citizens need to have adequate, accurate information about the chemicals they may be exposed to in order to evaluate the potential risks and rewards of allowing fracking in their communities.
“It is particularly disappointing that the first new information proposal since the open data executive order completely ignores the new requirements,” said Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy at the Center for Effective Government. “This proposal doesn’t just fail to comply with the new open data policy, it represents a step in the wrong direction since it abdicates control of and access to the data to an industry website.”
Data formats aside, every person in a state where fracking is taking place should care about how it will be regulated, including the way information regarding which chemicals are used in the process.
This is an opportunity to play the role of an informed, engaged citizen that goes beyond a periodic visit to the ballot box every two years.
If you don’t and dislike the outcome, you may be left asking “why wasn’t I consulted?”
If you feel strongly, one way or the other, about fracking or federal oversight of industry, should it be approved and come to your state, there is literally no time better than than now to weigh in.
UPDATE: Kyle Smith, writing for the Sunlight Foundation, reports that the fracking debate has been extended until the end of the summer:
Under pressure from the oil industry, Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell has extended the comment period on a controversial final “fracking” regulation by 60 days, promising two more months of maneuvering over a rule that, in its earlier incarnations, drew more than 177,000 public comments. The bulk of those appeared to be the product of letter-writing campaigns by environmental groups, according to analysis of comments on Sunlight’s Docket Wrench and conversations with agency officials.