Troubling court decision undermines BLM’s ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing

Barta IV, flickr.

A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl for the District of Wyoming set aside important hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) requirements designed to protect America’s groundwater from potential contamination by oil and gas wells on federal and tribal lands.  

The Wilderness Society intervened to help defend the rule in this case and supports an appeal.

In March 2015, the federal Bureau of Land Management issued carefully crafted, final regulations that ensure well integrity and require oil and gas companies to store fracking wastewater in leak-proof tanks instead of holding ponds. The regulations also require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations.

BLM finalized the regulations after the public submitted more than 1.5 million comments in response to drafts of the rule.

Judge Skavdahl’s ruling does not in any way dispute the need for BLM’s requirements. States currently only have haphazard, non-comprehensive rules and guidance covering fracking operations.

There are over 100,000 oil and gas wells on federal and tribal lands. More than 90 percent of new wells drilled on federal lands involve fracking.

To those who argue that this decision is a victory against “federal overreach,” The Wilderness Society’s Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer, responded that “industry desires state under-reach, which has and will result in groundwater contamination.”

Epstein added that “BLM’s technically sound requirements—which update 30-year-old oil and gas rules that BLM clearly had the authority to issue—need to take effect as soon as possible.”

 See The Wilderness Society’s 2014 factsheet for more information on hydraulic fracturing.