Obama Adminstration Ramps Up Legal Fight Against Fracking

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

America is producing more natural gas than ever before due to hydraulic fracturing, even as the Obama administration continues its legal battle in federal courts to impose more rules on oil and gas drillers.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lawyers are trying to get the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to overturn a decision halting the agency’s fracking rules. A Wyoming court issued a stay against the BLM last year and chastised the agency for regulatory overreach. The court said it “does not believe Congress has granted or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate fracking.”

“Because Congress has never excluded hydraulic fracturing from BLM expressly delegated authority, the district court erred,”BLM lawyers wrote in their opening brief, filed with the court Monday. “Substantial scientific and technical evidence in the record supports BLM’s expert conclusion that today’s greatly expanded hydraulic-fracturing operations pose a risk to groundwater, especially if well casings are inadequately designed or constructed.”

BLM’s legal arguments have perplexed the lawyers representing Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota and Utah, which are suing to stop the BLM from implementing fracking rules. States are suing the government along with the Ute Indian tribe and pro-industry groups like the Western Energy Alliance.

“I suspect the initial strong ruling by the judge in our favor is what’s causing the government to act in a perplexing manner,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president for government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“DOJ just isn’t used to getting such a strong rebuff from a federal judge, especially one appointed by President Obama. Rather than wasting its time with legal maneuvering, the government should be buttressing up its arguments,” Sgamma said. “The appeal briefing continues to assert BLM can regulate without demonstrating a need for the rule, an argument that has already fallen flat with the court.”

Environmentalists have sided with BLM and are pushing for federal regulations on fracking. The Sierra Club and Earthjustice have filed a brief in support of federal regulators.

BLM’s brief openly admits its assertion that fracking poses a risk to groundwater is “controversial”and goes against scientific evidence. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report last year claiming there’s no evidence fracking has led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.”

“BLM candidly acknowledged that ‘efforts to trace contaminants in groundwater to specific hydraulic fracturing operations have been controversial, in light of the technical difficulties and scientific uncertainties,'” BLM wrote in its legal brief.

Fracking is used for about 90 percent of wells drilled on the federal or tribal lands regulated by the BLM. The agency had lightly regulated fracking for decades until it published its brand new regulations in March of 2015. These regulations included strict wastewater storage requirements and require drillers to disclose their recipes for fracking fluid, more than 99.5 percent of which is water and sand. The 0.5 percent of fracking fluid the BLM alleges might be dangerous is made up of exotic ingredients like instant coffee, walnut shells, table salt, laundry detergent, make-up remover, lemon juice and soap.

Despite the administration’s legal opposition, U.S. natural gas production is still on the rise.

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Tags : bureau of land management colorado energy environmental protection agency north dakota the sierra club utah western energy alliance wyoming
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