Judge in Wyoming blocks fracking rule

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A federal judge has issued an injunction against new Department of Interior regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal land. 

Judge Scott Skavdahl of the U.S. District Court of Wyoming ruled Wednesday that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cannot institute its new fracking rule until lawsuits against it are settled. 

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In a 53-page opinion, Skavdahl cast doubt on the federal government’s ability to issue the rule. He issued the injunction because he decided the states and industry groups suing against the rule proved it would harm their operations and that their lawsuit is likely to succeed on its merits.

In his opinion, Skadvahl said he doesn’t think the Interior Department has the right to regulate fracking on federal land because Congress had, at one point, taken that power away from another agency.

“One of the fundamental questions presented in this case is whether Congress granted or delegated to the BLM the authority or jurisdiction to regulate fracking - despite having specifically removed such authority in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 from another federal agency [the Environmental Protection Agency],” he wrote. 

“At this point, the Court does not believe Congress has granted or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate fracking … 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 rule will now be put on hold while the courts decide the underlying lawsuits around it. In a statement, the Interior Department said it would respect the ruling.

"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 issue a preliminary injunction of the hydraulic fracturing rule,” the agency said in a statement.

“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."

The Interior Department finalized the broad new fracking rule in March, marking the Obama administration’s biggest foray into regulating oil and gas production on federal lands around the U.S. 

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.

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.

But Republicans, oil and gas producers and oil-rich states blasted the proposal as federal overreach that would hurt their fracking operations. 

Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota, as well as the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance, sued over the rule. In June, Skadvahl blocked the rule hours before it was scheduled to take effect so he could later rule on the injunction request against it. 

Opponents of the rule praised the decision on Wednesday.

“We are overjoyed that we are finally getting relief from the courts regarding the regulatory overreach of the Obama Administration,” said Kathleen Sgamma, the vice president of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance. 

“The United States has experienced a regulatory onslaught from an administration that acts as if it is not bound by the limits of the law. The regulatory overreach has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and prevented considerable economic growth.”

Republican lawmakers also supported the injunction. 

“The Interior Departments new rules … would create a second regulatory layer on top of the states’ regulation, creating unnecessary delays and increased costs for energy producers,” Sen. John HoevenJohn HoevenOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto Gitmo bill GOP senators fight female draft in defense bill Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (R-N.D.) said. 

“That translates into increased costs for energy consumers. The energy industry needs certainty to make the kinds of investments that will create more energy more efficiently with better environmental stewardship.”

Rep. Rob BishopRob BishopEndangered species rule changed, angering environmental group Overnight Energy: Obama integrates climate change into national security planning Overnight Regulation: Republicans blast agencies' climate reviews MORE, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called the ruling “the right decision.”

“The BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule will cause major harm to states, industry, and the American people if implemented, so much so that the Wyoming District Court blocked the implementation until further analysis,” Bishop said. 

“This judicial decision is the right decision because it stops the Obama Administration from shoving this harmful policy down the states’ throats.” 

—This post was updated at 5:05 p.m.