Federal Judge Block’s Obama’s New Fracking Rules

Published July 16, 2015

In a legal setback for the Obama administration’s environmental agenda, a federal judge in Wyoming sided with the Attorneys Generals of Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming,  temporarily blocking implementation of the administration’s regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal land, hours before they were set to take effect. 

On June 23, the U.S. District Court of Wyoming issued a preliminary stay to Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planned June 24th launch of the administration’s first major rewrite of fracking regulations on energy companies that lease federal land. 

Oil-and-natural-gas-heavy Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, sued to stop the rule, along with did two industry associations. 

In remarks, presiding Judge Scott Skavdahl said the stay was necessary to give the federal government more time to explain how it developed the rule and how it considered public comments. 

“It is too important an issue” for a quick ruling, Skavdahl said. 

Associations, States, Applaud Decision

Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, one of the two industry associations which sued to stop the rule, issued a statement saying, “BLM was ill-prepared to implement an extremely complex rule in a short period of time. We highlighted how the BLM Washington office has not given sufficient guidance to the state and field offices that are implementing the rule, and as a result they were issuing confused instructions to companies on how to comply. 

Sgamma continued, “The judge agreed that it makes no sense to implement an ill-conceived rule which could ultimately be overruled in court.” 

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) applauded Skavdahl’s decision on Twitter, saying, “We appreciate the court is taking its time to carefully consider this important decision.” 

Lawsuits were filed challenging the new rule within an hour of the BLM publishing them in  March. 

The standards addressed well construction, wastewater storage and fracking chemical disclosure.

The four states involved in the suit argued their own fracking regulations are sufficiently protective of public health and the environment and ought to supersede federal rules.

The Interior Department indicated it will comply with the judge’s order while considering its next step. 

BLM, Congress Reviewing Next Steps

The Hill (6/23/15) reported, Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said, “The BLM is consulting with the Office of the Solicitor and the Department of Justice about the decision of the U.S. District Court in Wyoming to temporarily stay implementation of the hydraulic fracturing rule. While the matter is being resolved, the BLM will follow the court’s order and will continue to process applications for permit to drill and inspect well sites under its pre-existing regulations.” 

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, told the June 24, Denver Business Journal, “We are pleased the court agreed that the new BLM regulations present serious and difficult questions that justified a stay of these rules’ effective date.” 

“We believe these rules intrude on Colorado’s sovereign right to responsibly and safely regulate the oil and gas industry within our borders,” said Coffman. 

Judge Skavdahl required the federal government to provide documents necessary for him to rule more fully on the injunction by July 22.

In the meantime, the Senate Interior Department appropriations bill, passed out of committee, would rescind the new federal standards and instead require the BLM to defer to state fracking regulations.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.