Interior Department includes tribal land in fracking regulation

A fracking operation in North Dakota. Photo by Joshua Doubek / Wikipedia

The Obama administration released a long-awaited fracking regulation today that places Indian Country under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.

The controversial rules, accompanied by a lengthy 395-page document, were announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Washington, D.C. She described them as "commonsense standards" that ensure hydraulic fracturing remains a safe energy practice.

“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” Jewell said in a press release. “This updated and strengthened rule provides a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources."

According to the Interior Department, the Act of March 3, 1909, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 and the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 require Indian lands to receive the "same protections" as public lands. Some tribes -- mainly those with large land bases -- disagree with that analysis and some suggested that the Bureau of Indian Affairs develop its own fracking standards.

Those concerns, however, were dismissed in the final regulation announced today. "The BLM does not assert that implementing its operational regulations on oil and gas operations on Indian lands is the only possible way to carry out the Secretary’s trust responsibilities under the Indian mineral statutes cited earlier," the accompanying document states.

"Nonetheless, it is the means chosen by the Secretary and the BIA, and is more economic than creating a parallel set of regulations and regulatory personnel in the BIA,' it continues. "The BLM believes it is fulfilling its part of the Secretary’s trust responsibilities by requiring operations on Indian lands to meet the same standards as those on federal lands."

However, the rule allows both tribes and states to request a "variance" if their laws and regulations carry equal or more protective standards. "The BLM recognizes that some tribes have been proactive in regulating hydraulic fracturing on their lands," the document states.

The regulation goes into effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

An Opinion:
Secretary Sally Jewell Commonsense Rules for Safe and Responsible Energy Development (DOI 3/20)

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