Zinke Announces Plan to Axe Fracking Rule

Secretary of Interior directs the Department of Justice to file a motion in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announcing that BLM intends to start a new rulemaking process to rescind the rule


Michael Freeman, Earthjustice Staff Attorney, (720) 989-6896

In one of his first actions as Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke Wednesday signaled his cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry by initiating a process to rescind updated fracking rules on public lands that were developed to protect public health and safety.

The Department of Justice filed a motion in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday announcing that BLM intends to start a new rulemaking process to rescind the rule.

The rule, issued in March 2015, was the result of nearly five years of public hearings and expert analysis to modernize the Bureau of Land Management’s fracking regulations, which had not been updated since 1982 and did not address dangers posed by new technologies and rapid expansion in the industry.

“Today’s news demonstrates the degree to which Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration are in the pocket of the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman. “This is a political decision intended to circumvent the rule of law and deliver a gift to the industry at the expense of public safety.”

The rule was challenged by the oil and gas industry in federal District Court in Wyoming in 2015. Earthjustice, on behalf of a coalition of six public health and conservation groups, intervened in the case to defend the new regulations. Both BLM and Earthjustice appealed a district court decision setting aside the rule. A hearing on the appeal was scheduled in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver for March 22.

The rule updated well construction and testing requirements, called for the use of tanks instead of pits to store fracturing fluid waste, required advance review and approval of fracking operations by BLM, and required operators to disclose the chemicals used for fracturing.

In updating the regulations, BLM consulted with Indian tribes and scientific experts, held regional forums and numerous public meetings, and reviewed more than 1.5 million public comments. It published both a draft rule and a supplemental draft rule before the rule was issued.

“The Trump administration’s plan to rescind the BLM’s fracking rule prioritizes billionaires and big business over the public interest,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks policy director. “The Obama-era BLM fracking rule places the bare minimum of standards on the oil and gas industry’s activities on public lands—lands that should be protected for future generations. By moving to overturn these common-sense protections, the Trump administration is positioning itself against the disclosure of toxic chemicals, protecting clean water, and preserving our public land.”

Earthjustice represents Conservation Colorado Education Fund, Earthworks, Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, and Western Resource Advocates in the appeal.

Read BLM’s motion.

Oil and gas fields in California's Central Valley.
Oil and gas fields in California's Central Valley. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

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