The Obama administration’s landmark effort to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public lands is likely a goner.
President Trump’s Interior Department will soon kick off a rulemaking process to rescind the Bureau of Land Management’s fracking rule, which has been tangled in litigation since its unveiling two years ago. Justice Department lawyers representing Interior are expected to ask a federal court today to pause the legal battle.
Oral arguments on the rule had been scheduled for next Wednesday at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. DOJ lawyers will ask the court to put off arguments and hold the case in abeyance.
The years-in-the-making fracking rule set new requirements for well construction, wastewater management and chemical disclosure for fracked wells on public and tribal lands, and was the Obama administration’s most visible effort to address environmental concerns from an uptick in fracking and horizontal drilling across the country in recent years.
Western states, industry groups and American Indian tribes panned the rule as a costly regulatory overreach that duplicated states’ efforts and burdened oil and gas operators working on public and tribal lands. A federal district court struck down the rule last summer, finding that it was beyond BLM’s authority (Energywire, June 22, 2016).
DOJ lawyers, who had fiercely defended the rule since its release, quickly appealed to the 10th Circuit last summer, as did a coalition of environmental groups that support the regulation. Until today, it was unclear whether the Trump administration planned to continue backing the rule (Energywire, March 10).
Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman, representing the environmental groups, has previously promised that the groups will seek to continue their appeal even if the Trump administration backs out. The legal issues in the case are sweeping, addressing whether Interior has authority to regulate fracking at all.
Lawyers in the case declined to comment on the development until DOJ files its formal notice with the court.