Obama administration could appeal fracking rule injunction

Obama administration could appeal fracking rule injunction
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Obama administration attorneys are opening the door to appealing a Wyoming federal court decision that temporarily blocked a new regulation on hydraulic fracturing on federal land.

Justice Department attorneys representing the Interior Department filed a “notice of appeal” late Thursday of the appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, based in Denver.

An Interior Department spokeswoman said the filing is only a “protective” measure to reserve the agency’s right to file a formal appeal at a later date. But officials have not yet decided whether to do that, the spokeswoman said.

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Judge Scott Skavdahl of the District Court of Wyoming ruled in September that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cannot enforce the rule, citing his doubt that Congress has given regulators authority to write it.

“At this point, the court does not believe Congress has granted or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate fracking,” he wrote. “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 injunction prevents Interior from enforcing the rule while the court system considers the merits of the case.

Interior has consistently maintained that it acted within the bounds of the law.

The BLM made the rule final in March as the first major regulations on fracking from the federal government.

Fracking has been at the center of the domestic natural gas boom of recent years. But regulators felt that the previous decades-old rules on gas drilling did not sufficiently account for technological advances in the process and environmental concerns about the process.

The state of Wyoming sued, and was soon joined by other states and gas drilling groups, saying Interior does not have the authority to enforce the new standards.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America, one of the groups challenging the rule, said its confident in the merits of its case.

“IPAA has long-said that the federal government’s efforts are duplicative and not needed, given that states are — and have for over 60 years been — in the best position to safely regulate hydraulic fracturing,” spokesman Neal Kirby said.

“BLM’s rule is far-reaching and it has not shown a compelling case that necessitates this rule, nor any specific risk this rule would reduce.”

A coalition of environmental groups that joined the litigation to defend the BLM filed notice Nov. 27 that it was appealing the ruling as well.