Conservation and Tribal Groups Sue to Block Repeal of Federal Fracking Regulations

Trump’s Bureau of Land Management rescinded measures that protect water, public health and wildlife


Mike Freeman, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9615, 

Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3051  

Michael Saul,  Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308  

Mario Atencio, Diné CARE, (505) 321-9974  

Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981  

Nicole Donaghy, Fort Berthold POWER, (701) 202-0927  


A coalition of environmental and tribal groups sued today to block the Trump administration’s repeal of a 2015 rule designed to protect water, wildlife, and public health from the harmful effects of hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands.

The Bureau of Land Management’s repeal of the rule eliminates federal protections intended to safeguard more than 700 million acres of public and tribal lands. The 2015 regulation required companies to disclose the chemicals they used in fracking operations, set standards for well construction, limited the use of waste pits to store fracking wastes, and required common-sense best management practices to protect both surface and ground water from contamination.

The rule, which was targeted by court challenges from the oil and gas industry and its allies, never took effect. After taking office, the Trump administration rescinded the rule in December 2017. The BLM, which manages oil and gas development on more than 700 million acres of public and tribal lands and minerals, is now operating under regulations developed in the 1980s, well before modern fracking techniques became commonplace. In rescinding the Hydraulic Fracturing Rule, the BLM also eliminated even some of the minimal safeguards that had been part of its 1980s-era regulations.

BLM developed the 2015 regulation through an extensive five-year review process. The agency concluded in 2015 that its 1980s-era regulations were inadequate to protect against the environmental and public health risks posed by fracking. The 2015 rule drew on industry best practices to modernize standards and protect public lands and tribal communities through additional oversight.  

Today’s lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to declare the repeal in violation of several federal laws—including the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Mineral Leasing Act, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The suit also asks that the court reinstate the 2015 Hydraulic Fracturing Rule.

Represented by Earthjustice, the coalition bringing today’s suit includes the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthworks, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, and Western Resource Advocates. 

“This is another case of the Trump administration putting our public lands and water at risk to pad the bottom line of the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman. “The agency has abdicated its responsibility under federal law to manage these lands for the good of the public, not just for fracking companies. We’re filing this case to force BLM to do its job.”

“Attempting to rescind these commonsense safeguards for oil and gas extraction on our public lands is yet another example of this administration refusing to do its job and prioritizing fossil fuel industry profits over the health and safety of our communities,” said Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Kelly Martin. “We have been successful in our work to hold the administration accountable in court, and we will continue fighting to preserve these critical protections.”

“This administration has shown us time and time again that profit is more important than the health and safety of citizens,” said Lisa DeVille, president of Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights. “Fracking has devastated our lands, so much that we do not know if our water is safe to drink. Rescinding rules that have taken years to develop shows that this administration has no consideration for life, we need clean water to live. Without these rules, what chance do we have left to protect our water?” 

“The rescission of the 2015 rule has put the Navajo communities in Northwest New Mexico in a precarious environmental and human health position,” said Diné CARE Board Member Mario Atencio. “The local communities consist mainly of owners of individual Indian allotted lands and the Department of the Interior is their trustee. These communities feel that the rescinding of the rule puts them more at risk of accidental and/or negligent contamination of their current sole water source. I am from Torreon in Northwest New Mexico, and we are deeply concerned that current decisions made by BLM and the Interior Department regarding fluid mineral development purposely steamroll local Navajo community concerns. I see this as part of the environmental racist legacy of the BLM made clear by the lack of meaningful tribal consultation in this and many other agency actions.” 

“The Trump administration wants to leave our water and wildlife unprotected from fracking pollution,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fracking is a dirty, dangerous business. It endangers public health, destroys animal habitat and threatens our climate. That’s why we’re determined to fight this illegal and reckless decision in court.”

Read the legal document.

Read the blog post: The Trump Administration Wants to Roll Back Fracking Standards, So We’re Going to Court

Fracking on BLM land in the Colorado River Valley Field Office of western Colorado.
Fracking on Bureau of Land Management land in the Colorado River Valley Field Office of western Colorado. (Bruce Gordon / Ecoflight)

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.