Pending New Federal Fracking Regulations

By Staff | September 06, 2013

The question regarding the U.S. Bureau of Land Management implementing a federal ruling on hydraulic fracturing is not a matter of if, but when. During his August Director’s Cut press conference, Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, shared his insight regarding meetings he attended in Denver with several members of the BLM. “That agency is very very committed to putting out a regulation for hydraulic fracturing. They were not committal at all about the timing of that. It just seems very certain that something is going to come out,” Helms said.

Any regulation implemented by the BLM would not affect private land minerals unless the U.S. EPA were to adopt the same regulations. In North Dakota, the main areas that would be impacted by new hydraulic fracturing regulations would be the National Grasslands and the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. Although Helms said the federal regulations would be very similar to those already used in North Dakota, there would be some new requirements that could slow drilling in the Bakken on an individual-well basis by 10 percent.

The slowdown would be a result of several factors: additional drilling log requirements for operators, an increase in permit-related paperwork and a BLM staff that is shrinking. “Added workload and less people, you know what that means,” he said.

Under the new regulations, drilling operators would be required to verify the amount and placement of all concrete pumped down the well to cement the well casing. Under current regulations, drilling supervisors are required to verify that the entire casing has been filled by proving the cement reached the surface of the well. According to Helms, 98 percent of the time, drilling teams will succeed in doing so. In the event that cement did not reach the surface, thus proving the entire well casing was filled, the team has to use certain tools to measure how much cement is in the casing and where it is.

The new regulations would differ in the way drilling teams are required to measure and assess the amount and placement of cement in the well. “They [BLM] want to preapprove the amount of cement that is going to be placed in the well and then have precise measurements of how much went in and where it went,” Helms said. To do that, the drilling rig would have to shut down for three days to allow the cement to cure giving the necessary measuring tools the ability to accurately measure the cement.

The anticipated impact of the rule would slow down drilling teams and decrease investment into the region, he noted. The rules would also increase the time needed to permit a federal well by 50 percent to 100 percent. The national average for a federally permitted well is roughly 225 days.

And, although the rules would only apply to federal mineral lands, Helms pointed out that the entire Williston Basin would be affected. “One of the little known facts of North Dakota is that in the process of farm foreclosures and such in the 1930s, the BLM acquired lots of minerals across the state,” he said. The tracts are mostly small, totaling only 160 acres or less, in most cases. But, he added, “90 percent of our spacing units have some federal minerals in them. So, even though they are dominantly private land, there could be one or two or three well bores that would have to get a federal permit.”