Ex-regulators back Obama in fracking rule court appeal

Ex-regulators back Obama in fracking rule court appeal
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A bipartisan quartet of former high-level Interior Department officials is supporting the Obama administration in its federal court fight defending a regulation on hydraulic fracking.

The officials — who served under presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — said a Wyoming judge was wrong in June when he struck down Interior’s fracking regulation and ruled that the department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not have authority to regulate the process at all.

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“Congress has enacted broad organic statutes that govern mineral leasing and federal land management, and authorize the Bureau of Land Management to regulate oil and gas drilling activities on the public lands,” the former officials wrote in a brief to the Denver-based 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The federal judges are hearing an appeal by Obama lawyers and environmental groups seeking to reverse the Wyoming judge’s decision.

“Under these statutes, the BLM has for decades specified operational requirements for lessees engaged in oil and gas drilling activities. The hydraulic fracturing rules are simply the latest manifestation of this well-established authority,” they said.

Judge Scott Skavdahl, who Obama appointed, wrote in his ruling that Congress acted in 2005 to exempt fracking from provisions the Safe Drinking Water Act, therefore blocking the BLM’s authority to regulate.

But the former Interior officials said the 2005 law only blocked Environmental Protection Agency authority.

“Indeed, the legislative history of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which the district court found ousted the Interior Department’s authority, specifically states that Congress did not intend through that Act to limit or repeal any of the Department’s authority, including authority ‘to prevent groundwater contamination under the Mineral Leasing Act,’” they said, citing a House committee report from the 2005 law.

Signing on to the Friday brief were James Caswell, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) head under Bush; David Hayes, a deputy interior secretary under Clinton and Obama; Michael Dombeck, an acting BLM director under Clinton; and Lynn Scarlett, a deputy Interior secretary under Bush.

The BLM regulation, made final last year after years of development, set standards for oil and natural gas well construction, containment of waste fluid and disclosure of chemicals used to frack. It applies only to wells on federal and American Indian land.