Judge Blocks Federal Oil, Gas Drilling Rules Pending Lawsuit

1 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Federal Court Blocks Obama Administration Fracking Rule.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A judge on Wednesday blocked new nationwide regulations for oil and gas drilling on federal lands from taking effect while a lawsuit moves ahead, pointing to a law that prohibits the U.S. New federal fracking regulations were blocked by a U.S. judge in Wyoming who said the government’s Bureau of Land Management lacks the authority to control hydraulic fracturing.A federal judge Wednesday blocked the Obama administration from implementing new regulations on hydraulic fracturing, saying that the administration does not appear to have the statutory authority to do so. Skavdahl ruled today in imposing a preliminary injunction against the rule. “We are overjoyed that we are finally getting relief from the courts regarding the regulatory overreach of the Obama administration,” Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance industry group said in a news release reacting to the ruling.

District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl wrote in his 54-page order. “Congress has not authorized or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing and, under our constitutional structure, it is only through Congress action that the BLM can acquire this authority,” Skavdahl wrote. Now, after months of battling it out in the courts, opponents of the rule have successfully put the brakes on the administration’s plan to clamp down on drilling. “We are pleased to see Judge Skavdahl agrees with our reasonable request to first hear the merits of our case before this final federal rule goes into effect,” said Jeff Eshelman, lead spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

The order follows several months of motions and research after an eight-hour hearing in federal court in Casper on June 23 with the industry and governments asking for a delay in implementing new fracking rules that were scheduled to go into effect on June 24. Opponents also argued Interior’s rule was “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns” about fracking’s environmental impacts on groundwater supplies — which even the EPA has failed to substantiate. The rules look to regulate well design and set requirements for the disposal of fracking wastewater, as well as require drillers to disclose what chemicals they use in their operations. On March 26, they issued their final version of the the regulations dealing with wellbore construction, chemical disclosures and water management, which were already subject to federal regulations.

Eshelman said they “requested the regulations be set aside because the administrative record lacks the factual, scientific, or engineering evidence necessary to sustain the agency’s action.” “Today’s decision essentially shows BLM’s efforts are not needed and that states are — and have for 60 years been — in the best position to safely regulate hydraulic fracturing,” Eshelman said. When they announced the rule, Interior Department officials said it was meant to protect the environment and update old federal standards in light of new fracking technologies. Areas covered include fracking — the process of cracking open oil and gas-bearing rock with a mix of pressurized water, sand and chemicals — and pressure-testing well bores to make sure they won’t leak. Environmentalists say the practice contaminates groundwater, but to date, there has been no evidence of the fracking process itself contaminating groundwater — though faulty well casings have been tied to some leaks.

They said the BLM was overstepping its regulatory authority by wanting to duplicate the states’ own work in regulating fracking, which in turn would lead to more bureaucracy and could cut mineral tax revenues. Two petroleum industry groups, the Ute Tribe and four states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and North Dakota — seek to block the rules, saying they duplicate state regulations and would cost jobs. The same Wyoming judge delayed implementation of the regulations until he decided whether to block them during the litigation mounted by the Western states and energy trade groups. In late August, another federal judge blocked an Environmental Protection Agency rule that seeks to put more bodies of water and wetlands under federal protection.

The BLM also fell short of showing environemental harm from fracking, the judge wrote. “The BLM fails to reference a single confirmed case of the hydraulic fracturing process contaminating groundwater.” The petitioners showed they likely would suffer irreparable harm because the regulations would infringe on the states’ and the tribe’ sovereignty and their own regulations of fracking, Skavdahl wrote. No other federal agency has undertaken fracking regulation since then. “It is hard to analytically conclude or infer that having expressly removed the regulatory authority from EPA, Congress intended to vest it in the BLM,” Skavdahl wrote.

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