Court to hear Obama admin’s appeal in fracking rule case

Court to hear Obama admin’s appeal in fracking rule case

A federal appeals court has scheduled a January session to consider the Obama administration’s request to reinstate its regulation on hydraulic fracturing on public lands.

The Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, filed a notice Tuesday that oral arguments with lawyers for and against the rule will be Jan. 17, three days before President Obama leaves office.

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The rule, published last year by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), sets federal-land fracking standards regarding well-casing integrity, transparency of the fracking fluids and storage of the waste fluids.

Judge Scott Skavdahl, an Obama-appointed judge in the District Court for Wyoming, overturned the rule in June. He agreed with industry groups and some western states that said a 2005 law explicitly prevents the BLM from regulating fracking, even on federal land.

The BLM appealed to the 10th Circuit Court, asking judges to reverse Skavdahl’s ruling, because it ignores long-standing precedent that gives the federal government wide authority over oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.

“The district court’s crabbed view of BLM’s authority is wholly unprecedented and manifestly incorrect,” federal lawyers wrote. “Rather than defer to BLM’s longstanding interpretation of its governing statutes, the district court substituted its preferred interpretation for that of the agency. That was legal error.”

The industry groups stood up for Skavdahl’s interpretation.

“Like all executive branch entities, BLM possesses only the power that Congress has delegated. BLM disregards this fundamental principle of constitutional government, asserting regulatory authority over hydraulic fracturing despite Congress having allocated that authority to a different executive agency, the Environmental Protection Agency,” attorneys for the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance wrote.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court will hear the case. Their ruling could be appealed to the full slate of judges on the court, and then the Supreme Court.