Judge’s order delays BLM’s implementation of fracing regulations

A federal district judge in Wyoming temporarily delayed the US Bureau of Land Management’s implementation of its recently issued hydraulic fracturing regulations. Judge Scott W. Skavdahl issued a stay on June 23 to give the US Department of the Interior agency until July 22 to submit a full administrative record in legal challenges by four states and two independent oil and gas producers’ associations.

The regulations, which were scheduled to take effect on June 24, effectively have been delayed until early August.

BLM is consulting with the US Department of Justice about Skavdahl’s decision, a Washington spokesman told OGJ. “While the matter is being resolved, BLM will follow the court’s order and will continue to process applications for permits to drill and inspect well sites under its preexisting regulations,” he said.

DOI issued its final rule for fracing regulations on onshore public and Indian tribal lands earlier this year (OGJ Online, Mar. 20, 2015). Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) directed the attorney general’s office to petition for review of final agency action in US District Court for Wyoming on Mar. 26 (OGJ Online, Mar. 27, 2015). Colorado, North Dakota, and Utah subsequently joined the action.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America in Washington and Western Energy Alliance in Denver mounted a separate legal challenge. Skavdahl said the states’ and their arguments have merit, but stayed his final decision until BLM could submit the administrative record, WEA said.

“BLM was ill-prepared to implement an extremely complex rule in a short period of time,” said Kathleen Sgamma, WEA’s vice-president of government and public affairs.

“We highlighted how the BLM Washington Office has not given sufficient guidance to the state and field offices that are implementing the rule, and as a result they were issuing confused instructions to companies on how to comply,” she said. “The judge agreed that it makes no sense to implement an ill-conceived rule which could ultimately be overruled in court.”

In Washington, US House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) called BLM’s regulation “a rule based on fear not facts that favors Washington bureaucracy over progress and science” since both the US Department of Energy and US Environmental Protection Agency have found fracing to be safe.

“The ballooning lawsuits are an obvious sign of flawed policy,” Bishop said. “Back to the drawing board for BLM would be an understatement. The regulation is fundamentally wrong and should be ended entirely. The US District Court for Wyoming’s decision to grant this stay is a positive step in that direction.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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