Federal judge strikes down Obama’s effort to regulate fracking

A Wyoming federal judge has struck down the Obama administration’s attempt to regulate how oil and natural gas drillers conduct hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.

In a ruling Tuesday U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl found found Congress had specifically exempted from federal regulation the practice of fracking, in which water, chemicals and sand are pumped underground at high pressure to release oil and gas from miniature fissures, in a 2005 energy law.

“The issue before this Court is not whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad for the environment,” Skavdahl wrote. “The constitutional role of this court is to interpret the applicable statutory enactments and determine whether Congress has delegated to the Department of Interior legal authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. It has not.”

The Department of Interior did not indicate whether it planned to appeal the ruling. But a spokesperson said the agency disagreed with the judge’s ruling.

“It’s unfortunate that implementation of the rule continues to be delayed because it prevents regulators from using 21st century standards to ensure that oil and gas operations are conducted safely and responsibly on public and tribal lands.”

The department’s Bureau of Land Management released the fracking rule this past March after a four-year review that drew more than a million comments from the public.

In western states like Colorado and Utah, huge swaths of oil and gas deposits are covered by federal lands. As hydraulic fracturing techniques have advanced over the past decade, drillers gained access to shale deposits long though too costly to drill. Ninety percent of oil and gas drilling on federal lands in 2013 involved hydraulic fracturing, the court said.

The fracking regulation had also drawn criticism from politicians, who argued it was likely to hurt an oil and gas boom that had enriched many western states, along with the oil and gas companies operating there.

“Hydraulic fracturing is an integral part of the American energy renaissance and its technological advances have dramatically enhanced America’s energy security,” Rep. Bill Flores, R-Waco, said in a statement. “States have been safely and effectively regulating hydraulic fracturing on both government and privately owned lands for decades.”

The rule’s provision on the disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process along with standards on how wells were to be fracked drew immediate industry opposition when it was released in March.

After Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and North Dakota, along with the Ute tribe, sued, Skavdahl granted a motion to temporarily block the government from implementing the rule, a ruling that was made final Tuesday.