Federal Court Halts Implementation of BLM Fracking Rules

Jackson Walker

On September 30, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming held that the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") did not have Congressional authority to promulgate and finalize hydraulic fracturing regulations for federal lands. In March of 2015, the BLM finalized rules which focused on three aspects of oil and gas development located on federal lands – casing and cementing requirements, chemical disclosures, and management of recovered fluids. The court's ruling came in response to several preliminary injunction motions filed by: 1) Independent Petroleum Association of America ("IPAA") and Western Energy Alliance; 2) Wyoming, Colorado (joined by Utah); 3) North Dakota (also joined by Utah); and 4) the Ute Indian Tribe.

In granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Skavdahl found that BLM's final rules exceeded the agency’s authority, stating: "At this point, the Court does not believe Congress has granted or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate fracking."1 He went on to note, "Congress has not authorized or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing and, under our constitutional structure, it is only through Congressional action that the BLM can acquire this authority."2 Interestingly, in previous matters, the BLM has taken the position that it lacked authority to regulate fracking on federal lands.3

This ruling postpones the implementation of the BLM's regulations until the federal courts can conduct hearings on the Original Petitions filed by IPAA, Western Energy Alliance, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, and the Ute Indian Tribe.

1Wyoming v. United States Dep't of Interior, et al., Case No. 2:15-CV-043-SWS, Order on Motions for Preliminary Injunction at 51 (D. Wyo. Sept. 30, 2015)

2Id. at 53

3See Ctr. for Biological Diversity & Sierra Club v. BLM, 937 F. Supp. 2d 1140, 1147.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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