BLM moves to erase 2015 fracking rule

The Bureau of Land Management today is formally moving to do away with a new rule governing hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells on federal lands, days before oral arguments over a court challenge of the rule are scheduled to occur.

“The BLM is now proposing to rescind the 2015 final rule because we believe it is unnecessarily duplicative of state and some tribal regulations and imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs on the oil and gas industry,” the agency says in a document made available online Monday.

It is scheduled for publishing in the Federal Register today.

The rule, adopted by the Obama administration, is intended to update decades-old rules governing oil and gas development on federal lands to reflect the widespread, modern-day practice of hydraulic fracturing.

It includes a requirement for companies to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process.

It has yet to take effect. A district court judge set it aside based on a legal challenge by oil and gas industry groups. The BLM and conservation groups appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and oral arguments are scheduled to take place before the appeals court Thursday in Denver.

The Trump administration said in March it would propose repealing the rule, and the appeals court scheduled oral arguments despite the administration’s request to stay the appeal.

“The timing of this proposal is obviously linked to this week’s oral argument,” Michael Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice who is representing conservation groups, said in a news release.

“It is part of the administration’s effort to circumvent the law by asking to stay this appeal while leaving the lower court ruling in effect. We oppose that request, and we’ll see the agency in court Thursday morning.”

In its Federal Register notice, the BLM cites the rule’s potential compliance cost of $32 million to $45 million a year, and said a review it conducted as ordered by President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke indicated those costs aren’t justified.

It also says an increasing number of states already have, or are pursuing, laws or regulations addressing hydraulic fracturing, and some tribes are doing the same.

“BLM also possesses discretionary authority allowing it to impose site-specific protective measures reducing the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing,” the agency said.

Its proposal to eliminate the rule will be subject to a 60-day public comment period.

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