California, Activists Sue Trump To Enforce Obama Era Fracking Rules

Published March 15, 2018

The state of California, environmental organizations, and several tribal groups filed a lawsuit against the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, seeking to force the agency to enforce rules regulating fracking on federal lands imposed in 2015 by the Interior Department when Barack Obama was president.

The process known as fracking sends high-pressure blasts of water, sand and chemicals into wells to crack underground rocks and release oil and natural gas. Fracking has greatly increased the available oil and natural gas reserves of the United States, created thousands of jobs, and increased tax revenues in states where the process is used to produce oil and gas.

The Obama era rules required operators to disclose chemicals used in fracking on federal and tribal lands and set standards for well construction, water protection, and waste storage.

State, Industry Opposition

Critics who opposed the rules argued they were unnecessary, duplicative of existing state regulations, and went against the existing powers delegated to states to regulate and oversee oil and gas operations on federal lands within their borders.

Several states and a number of oil and gas companies filed suit in a federal court in Wyoming saying the rules were illegal, intended to force oil and gas operators off of federal lands set aside for multiple uses, and by increasing costs for operators would result in higher prices for consumers. The federal judge hearing the case in Wyoming blocked the rules from taking effect, ruling that the federal government lacked authority to regulate fracking.

After replacing Obama as President, in March, Donald Trump directed BLM to repeal of the never-enforced rules in.

The BLM filed notice it was withdrawing the rules in December, writing, Bureau of Land Management took formal action to remove them in December, writing in its notice, the rules “unnecessarily burdens industry with compliance costs and information requirements.” BLM went on to say states and Indian tribes already adequately manage fracking, and it had determined repealing the rule would have no significant environmental impact.

The lawsuit aims for force the Trump administration to reimpose the Obama era rules and finally enforce them saying by withdrawing the rules BLM was shirking its legal responsibility to protect public lands.

Victory Won’t Halt Fracking

Isaac Orr, a research fellow for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says even if the lawsuit against BLM succeeds it is unlikely to hamper most fracking in the United States.

“If he Obama-era rules regarding fracking are ultimately enforced, it will make paperwork duplicative and increase the permitting time for fracking on federal lands, raising costs, but it is unlikely to further anti-fracking proponents’ ultimate goal of ending fracking in particular and oil and gas production in general,” Orr said. “Most fracking occurs on private land and state lands in states like North Dakota and Texas.”

“If the environmentalists and tribes win, the case will probably be appealed, and a federal judge has already blocked the rules once.” said Orr. “More importantly, most fracking happens on private lands, not federal lands, so regardless of whether the Department of the Interior decides it wants to regulate hydraulic fracturing, which Congress says they don’t have the authority to do, opponents are not really going to have little effect on the vast majority of oil and natural gas production.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.