When the Bureau of Land Management issued its new hydraulic fracturing rule at the end of March, it unleashed a storm of criticism from states, the industry and tribal governments. It was set to go into effect Wednesday, but a federal judge stayed the rule Tuesday night.
District of Wyoming Judge Scott W. Skavdahl heard from two groups of plaintiffs in two different cases: The first involved the states of Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah, all of which have significant fracking occurring. The second involved the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association on behalf of 46 industry and royalty-owner groups. The Ute Indian Tribe, which is based in Fort Duchesne, Utah, was allowed to join a lawsuit in the Wyoming court Monday.
Six environmental groups have requested permission to join the federal government in defense of the BLM rule.
Another lawsuit was filed by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe against the Department of the Interior asking for a temporary restraining order and to vacate the portions of the BLM’s rule it says are in conflict with the Indian Mineral Leasing Act. That lawsuit was filed in federal court in Denver.
The temporary restraining order was not granted, but Chief Judge Marcia Krieger set up a consolidated briefing schedule. Thomas Shipps, of Maynes Bradford Shipps & Sheftel, said the firm must file its brief by July 23. The federal government will have 30 days after that to respond. Krieger has scheduled verbal arguments for Oct. 14 at the federal court in Durango.
Fracking entails the injection of water, sand and chemical compounds at high pressure deep underground to release oil and gas reservoirs from rock. Concerns about the method include the possibilities of contaminated groundwater, well leakage and increases in earthquake activity where it is used extensively.
The BLM estimates 90 percent of oil and gas extraction on 750 million acres of federal and tribal lands occurs via fracking.
Skavdahl gave the federal government until July 22 to submit the administrative record, after which he will rule more fully in August.
He said the arguments of the states and the industry “have merit,” and the BLM should not implement the rule in a hurried manner when their cases have a strong case of prevailing, according to the Western Energy Alliance in a news release issued Tuesday night.