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North Dakota feeling a draft

The U.S. Department of the Interior released an updated draft of rules on hydraulic fracturing Thursday, but it appears those on both sides of the fracking issue are unhappy with the proposal.

The 171-page draft offered by the DOI's Bureau of Land Management arm seems to have found enough middle ground in the pitched set of guidelines that neither environmentalists or oil and gas industry representatives and supporters are happy.

Leading North Dakota politicians blasted the proposal while the head of the Sierra Club said his organization was "alarmed and disappointed by the fundamental inadequacy" of the billed collection of regulations, which would represent the first update of federal fracking rules in more than three decades.

"America needs to develop more energy with better environmental stewardship to lead us to the goal of North American energy security," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., in a statement. "The way to achieve that goal, however, is not to add a new layer of regulation and bureaucracy on top of the thorough regulatory regimen that states already administer."

Highlights of the of the report include the allowance of energy companies to keep certain chemicals used in the fracking process sealed from the public under "trade secret" status (though the BLM would be privy to that information) and a provision calling for the development of a "consistent oversight and disclosure model that will apply across all public and Indian lands" which are available for oil and gas development.

The complete report -- which will have a public comment period of 30 days that will begin sometime next week, according to DOI spokesperson Jessica Kershaw -- can be found on the DOI website.

"I am still not convinced the federal government should be looking to craft one-size-fits-all regulations which duplicate regulations already in place at the state and tribal level," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in a statement released by her office. "While a vast improvement on previous drafts, these draft regulations would still stand to cause delays and frustrations in permitting and drilling on federal and Indian lands."

Of the two North Dakota senators and Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer, Heitkamp was the least critical of the draft, adding that it represents a "step in the right direction" for energy producing states.

While all three policymakers agreed the new regulations set forth would cause delays with regard to permitting and overall production, Cramer took a more defiant tone in a YouTube video he released on Thursday.

"The implementation of this rule would threaten the nature of our thriving energy economy and have punishing consequences on everyone from rig workers to restaurant owners throughout North Dakota," Cramer said in the video. "It is simply not possible for the federal government to create its own standard on hydraulic fracturing without interfering with state and local laws. As North Dakota strives to lead the way to national energy security, I struggle to think of a more harmful regulation for our federal government to pursue."

Other aspects of the proposal include requiring companies to alter some practices used in the storage of leftover well flowback fluids used in the fracking process, enhanced wellbore integrity and overall well construction in order to ease public concerns about groundwater contamination and other potential environmental threats.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, however, is not convinced the guidelines will improve environmental stewardship.

"After reviewing the draft rules, we believe the administration is putting the American public's health and well-being at risk," Brune said in a statement. "This would continue to give polluters a free ride. The draft rules ignore the recommendations of the president's own shale gas advisory committee, which called for transparency, full public chemical disclosure, environmental safeguards and pollution monitoring."

Brune also bemoaned the absence of "baseline water testing" and the continued allowance of the energy industry to use open pits for storing. The proposal did state that the BLM would look into the possibility of requiring all wastewater to be stored in "closed tanks" in an effort to avoid contamination.

The BLM oversees close to 700 subsurface acres of mineral estate and 56 million acres of Indian mineral estate.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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