Amid lawsuit, further delay of federal land oil and gas drilling rules

Mead Gruver, Associated Press

Proposed rules for oil and gas drilling on federal lands nationwide continue to be delayed amid a legal challenge.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — New rules for oil and gas drilling on federal lands nationwide will be delayed from August until September at the soonest amid a legal challenge that seeks to prevent them from taking effect at all.

Environmental groups failed to persuade a judge to allow the rules to take effect while the federal government takes more time to file documents in the case.

"Hundreds of new oil and gas wells may be drilled on public lands without complying with the requirements of the rule," wrote the groups represented by the law firm Earthjustice.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin granted the filing extension Thursday while keeping the rule suspended.

The Interior Department is defending the rules against a lawsuit filed by Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and two petroleum industry groups, the Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Association of America.

On June 23, Wyoming U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl suspended the U.S. Bureau of Land Management rules a day before they originally were supposed to take effect. He ordered Interior to submit more documents showing how it came up with the new regulations.

The additional documentation originally was due to be filed with the court no later than this Wednesday. Rankin granted an extension to Aug. 28.

Because Skavdahl has allotted time for review of the filings before he decides whether to suspend the rules for even longer — until the lawsuit's resolution — the earliest the rules might take effect now is no sooner than mid-September.

The rules would require oil and gas developers to report the chemicals they pump underground during hydraulic fracturing. Fracking involves pumping large volumes of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals into wells to crack open deposits and aid the flow of oil and gas.

The rules also would require pressure testing of newly installed well holes.

The petroleum industry argues the rules would be costly to oil and gas developers. The four states claim the rules would damage their economies by causing petroleum developers would to move off federal lands to regions where oil and gas reserves can be exploited from private land.

Six environmental groups have sided with the federal government in the case. They say the federal government needs to have strong rules for oil and gas drilling to protect water, wildlife and other resources on federal land.

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