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Tribe Urges Federal Court to Block BLM Fracking Rule

An American Indian tribe in southwest Colorado is urging a federal court to stop the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) rule governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public and tribal lands from taking effect on Wednesday, joining four states and two industry groups in opposing the rule.

On Monday, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado against the BLM and the Department of Interior (DOI). The tribe also filed a lawsuit against both government entities last Thursday.

According to the complaint, the BLM's fracking rule is "arbitrary, capricious [and] an abuse of discretion" because it runs afoul of the Indian Reorganization Act, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act and the Indian Mineral Development Act.

"Implementation of the BLM final rule as to the tribe's lands would infringe upon the tribe's regulatory authority and would conflict with the tribe's own set of comprehensive regulations addressing [fracking] on its lands, recently enacted pursuant to the tribe's inherent, constitutional and federal statutory and regulatory authority," the TRO said.

"Allowing the BLM final rule to go into effect as to the tribe's lands during the pendency of this litigation would irreparably harm the tribe's sovereign interests."

Court documents show the tribe has leased "substantial portions" of its lands to oil and gas companies for development, including to the tribe's own oil and gas company, Red Willow Production Co. It added that Red Willow currently operates hundreds of wells on tribal lands. The tribe's reservation covers 1,059 square miles in three Colorado counties -- Archuleta, La Plata and Montezuma.

Four states -- Colorado, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming -- are plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit against the BLM over its fracking rule (see Shale DailyJune 18June 12April 28). A third lawsuit was filed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance in March (see Shale DailyMarch 26).

Under the rule, oil and gas operators would be required, among other things, to use the FracFocus registry to disclose the chemicals used in fracking and use above-ground tanks to temporarily store produced water (see Shale DailyMarch 20).

The lawsuit [Case No. 1:15-cv-01303-MSK] also names DOI Secretary Sally Jewell, BLM Director Neil Kornze and Janice Schneider, assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the DOI, as defendants.

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