Wyoming judge blocks federal fracturing rule

OREANDA-NEWS. October 01, 2015. A federal judge has blocked the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from enforcing new rules related to hydraulic fracturing operations on federal land.

US District Court of Wyoming judge Scott Skavdahl today approved an oil industry request for a preliminary injunction that should stop the new well integrity and chemical disclosure requirements from taking effect until at least 2016. The same judge halted implementation of the rule in June, but today's injunction bars BLM from enforcing the rule until the litigation is complete.

President Barack Obama's administration issued the regulations hoping to cut down on the risk that hydraulic fracturing operations could pollute groundwater. Under the rules oil and gas producers operating on federal lands would have had to meet new well construction requirements, store waste fluids in above-ground tanks, disclose data on chemicals used in fracturing and provide more geologic data to the BLM.

But the federal judge in his decision was skeptical Congress had ever given the agency authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. The judge noted that Congress in the 2005 Energy Policy Act blocked the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using its authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate hydraulic fracturing, but never provided that authority to BLM.

"It is hard to analytically conclude or infer that having expressly removed the regulatory authority from the EPA, Congress intended to vest it in the BLM, particularly where the BLM had not previously been regulating the practice," the judge wrote in a 54-page decision.

The judge also agreed with oil industry groups that letting the rules take effect could permanently harm industry, by forcing them to disclose chemical formulations that are trade secrets and by requiring them to face new compliance costs.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance, two of the industry groups that requested the injunction, both applauded the ruling.

"He agreed with us that vague notions of public concern are not a sufficient basis to impose centralized federal control," said Western Energy Alliance vice president of government affairs Kathleen Sgamma.

BLM did not immediately comment on the decision.