DENVER — A federal judge agreed Tuesday to postpone the Obama administration’s tough new hydraulic fracturing restrictions just hours before they were scheduled to take effect.
U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl in Casper, Wyoming, gave both sides another week to submit arguments and citations before making a final decision on the request for a stay, which is expected July 22.
Four Western states — Colorado, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming — along with two oil and gas industry groups had asked the court to delay the Bureau of Land Management rule slated to kick in Wednesday until their lawsuits could be heard.
The Western Energy Alliance, which filed suit along with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, argued that the rule presented a “credible threat of irreparable harm.”
“BLM was ill-prepared to implement an extremely complex rule in a short period of time,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs, in a Tuesday statement.
“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.
She added, “The judge agreed that it makes no sense to implement an ill-conceived rule which could ultimately be overruled in court.”
A coalition of six environmental groups has defended the federal rules, which would require the BLM to approve fracking operations on federal land, arguing that they “had not been updated since 1988 despite the increasingly widespread use of well stimulation techniques like high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which injects millions of gallons of fluids and toxic chemicals into the ground,” said Earthjustice in a June 2 statement.
The Southern Ute Tribe in Colorado also filed suit in federal court last week, arguing that tribal authority takes precedence over federal authority on tribal lands.
The BLM rule, issued March 20, is aimed at addressing health and safety concerns over fracking on federal land, but state and industry officials argued that the measures are redundant given the state safeguards already in place.
“In fact, 99.97 percent of the permits to drill approved last year by BLM were in states with recently updated fracking regulations, with just one well in a state currently updating its rules,” said the Western Energy Alliance in a statement.
“BLM cannot point to a single incident on public lands to justify the new rules. Even the Environmental Protection Agency agrees hydraulic fracturing does not pose significant risks to groundwater that aren’t already being managed by [the] state,” the statement said.