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US Judge Blocks Federal Fracking Rule

A federal judge in Wyoming has put a stay on new rules governing hydraulic fracturing on public lands, just before they were about to come into effect

US District Judge Scott Skavdahl has temporarily blocked implementation of the Obama administration’s regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal land, just hours before they were set to take effect on Wednesday.

He placed a temporary hold on the rules’ implementation until July 22, giving the government a month to better articulate its case

Four states and two industry groups have sued to block the rules as too restrictive.

The Hill reports:

The late Tuesday decision in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming means the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cannot implement the rule Wednesday as it had planned.

While the stay is only preliminary and could be lifted at any time, it represents a setback for the administration’s first major attempt to address the explosion of the controversial fracking process in its rules for energy companies that lease federal land.Four oil-and-natural-gas-heavy states sued to stop the rule, as did two industry associations.

Judge Scott Skavdahl issued the stay after a full day of arguments, saying it’s necessary to give the federal government more time to explain how it developed the rule and how it considered comments from the public, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

“It is too important an issue” for a quick ruling, Skavdahl said.

“BLM was ill-prepared to implement an extremely complex rule in a short period of time,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, said in a 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 continued. “The judge agreed that it makes no sense to implement an ill-conceived rule which could ultimately be overruled in court.”

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) applauded Skavdahl’s decision on Twitter, saying, “We appreciate the court is taking its time to carefully consider this important decision.”

Wyoming and the other states involved argue their own regulations on fracking ought to supersede the federal ones.

The energy groups say that the rules are unnecessarily strict.

The BLM published the rules in March, and the lawsuits started within an hour.

The standards focus on three areas: well construction standards, storage of wastewater and disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process.

The Interior Department said it will comply with the judge’s order and is consulting attorneys on the next steps.

“The BLM is consulting with the Office of the Solicitor and the Department of Justice about the decision of the U.S. District Court in Wyoming to temporarily stay implementation of the hydraulic fracturing rule,” Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said. “While the matter is being resolved, the BLM will follow the court’s order and will continue to process applications for permit to drill and inspect well sites under its pre-existing regulations.”

Skavdahl gave the federal government until July 22 to provide certain documents necessary for him to rule more fully on the injunction.

The House and Senate are considering legislation that would overturn the rules or prevent their enforcement in states with existing fracking rules.