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Judge Blocks BLM Fracking Rules From Taking Effect

A federal judge in Wyoming has ruled in favor of a motion for a preliminary injunction (PI) to delay rules developed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to govern hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public and tribal lands from taking effect.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled in favor of four states, two industry groups and an Indian tribe that had filed two separate lawsuits last March over the rules. The judge's ruling means the BLM's rules won't take effect while litigation is pending.

In a statement Wednesday, the law firm Baker & Hostetler LLP -- which represented the two industry groups, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and the Western Energy Alliance (WPA) -- said Skavdahl had agreed that the "petitioners had presented credible evidence that the imposition of the rule would result in irreparable harm to oil and gas operators on federal lands, and that existing federal and state rules were sufficient to protect against environmental harm..." (see Shale DailyMay 19).

"This ruling confirms the reservations Judge Skavdahl expressed at the preliminary injunction hearing about the viability of BLM's rule," said Baker attorney Mark Barron. "The court recognized that both substantive infirmities with the rule itself and procedural inadequacies in BLM's rulemaking process compromise the validity of BLM's hydraulic fracturing rule."

Barron said the case would now turn to the merits of the lawsuit against the BLM.

“We are pleased to see Judge Skavdahl agrees with our request to first hear the merits of our case before this final federal rule goes into effect,” said IPAA President Barry Russell. “Today's decision is consistent with IPAA’s position that BLM's efforts are not needed and that states are -- and have for 60 years been -- in the best position to safely regulate hydraulic fracturing.”

Last March, Wyoming filed a lawsuit challenging the BLM's authority to regulate fracking. The lawsuit was joined by Colorado and North Dakota in April, followed by Utah in early July (see Shale Daily, June 18; April 28; April 16; March 26). Two industry groups, the WEA and the IPAA, also filed a separate lawsuit in March.

Court records show the two cases were consolidated to add the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation as a plaintiff.

Skavdahl blocked the rules from taking effect in June, but he denied the plaintiffs' request for a PI to block the rule outright, saying he didn't have enough information to rule on their request. In July, he gave the Interior Department more time to enter the administrative record, extending the deadline until Aug. 28 (see Shale DailyJuly 17June 24).

Western state leaders maintain they can adequately regulate fracking, and that regulatory oversight should be spread over both private and adjoining public lands to avoid duplication and confusion.

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