US court scraps limits on fracturing oversight
Washington, 21 September (Argus) — An appeals court today threw out a 2016 ruling that had blocked the US Interior Department from enforcing first-time hydraulic fracturing regulations on millions of acres of federal and tribal land.
The 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals reached its decision after finding industry and state challenges to the regulations had become moot, now that President Donald Trump' administration has proposed to rescind them entirely. The disputed issues in the case had become a "moving target" that were not ready for legal challenges, the court found.
The decision marks a major victory for environmentalists, who said that keeping the 2016 ruling intact would have stripped the government's authority from regulating fracturing. Sierra Club staff attorney Nathan Matthews said the decision would reinstate regulations that were developed under former president Barack Obama but never came into force.
Even though the Trump administration proposed rescinding the fracturing regulations, it is still taking comment and will be unable to finalize a full repeal for weeks or months.
Interior did not immediately respond for comment.
The regulations were developed in response to concerns that some oil and gas companies were not taking sufficient steps to protect water resources when using fracturing to stimulate their wells. Interior set minimum standards for construction, wastewater storage and fracturing chemical disclosure that were supposed to apply starting in June 2015.
But district court judge Scott Skavdahl issued a preliminary injunction putting the regulations on hold days before the enforcement deadline, in response to a lawsuit from oil industry groups and states. The next year he threw out the regulations because he said the US Congress had never given Interior the authority to regulate fracturing on federal lands. The Obama administration and environmentalists appealed that decision.
Interior began to reconsider the fracturing rule after Trump took office. The agency proposed to rescind it entirely on 25 July and will accept public comments through 25 September.
The 10th Circuit, in its ruling, did not address the merits of the case. But it said dismissing that appeal was appropriate because of the "uncertain future" of the regulations. Scrapping the district court ruling was also appropriate, it said, to prevent it from causing further legal consequences.