The Trump administration has now given formal notice that it will repeal an Obama-era rule that has strict standards for hydraulic fracking on public lands — all part of what the president says is his ongoing effort to rollback regulations and to encourage domestic energy production that will reduce cost for US manufacturers.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published its ruling in the Federal Registry on Friday December 29. It essentially overturns a 2015 rule.
“With this final rule, the BLM is rescinding the 2015 rule because we believe it imposes administrative burdens and compliance costs that are not justified,” the agency wrote.
“This final rule returns the affected sections of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) to the language that existed immediately before the published effective date of the 2015 rule (June 24, 2015), except for changes to those regulations that were made by other rules published between the date of publication of the 2015 rule and now, and the phrase “perform nonroutine fracturing jobs,” which is not restored to the list of subsequent operations requiring prior approval,” it continued.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is known, has long been controversial. Producers take a mixture of water, sand and chemicals and inject it more than a mile beneath the earth’s surface to loosen the shale oil and gas from the rocks where it is held. Environmentalists say that the potential is there is harm drinking water supplies.
The Obama administration tried to walk a fine line. On the one hand, it said that natural gas releases half the emissions as does coal and it thus wanted to encourage its development — with strict oversight. Some environmental groups accepted fracking as a means to an end — to displace coal. But others remain steadfast against the drilling process. The Obama administration further sought to force developers to disclose the chemicals they use to frack.
To this end, those same groups have tried mightily to get the 2015 rule to take effect through the court system, but they have been blocked. They are not just discouraged by their legal failures but also by the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to turn back the regulatory clock.
“The Trump administration is endangering public health and wildlife by allowing the fracking industry to run roughshod over public lands,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
In a letter that was sent to former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell,six lawmakers wrote that the federal agency needs to put people before profits, noting that the rules and the processes are not “transparent.” The department “should note the trends among the leading states that are strengthening their rules on hydraulic fracturing and follow suit.”
But Obama’s positions — and those of the environmental community — didn’t sit well with oil and gas developers that had argued their fracking processes are safe and that there is little evidence of harming drinking water supplies. Those producers have felt that state regulations are sufficient and that any federal rules are both duplicative and expensive. They sued to stop the 2015 Obama rule and that regulation never took effect as a result.
“The rescinding of this burdensome rule, which was never enacted due to IPAA and Western Energy Alliance’s ongoing legal challenge, will save our member companies and those operating on federal lands hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs without any corresponding safety benefits,” Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in a statement.
“It was clear from the start that the federal rule was redundant with state regulation and politically motivated, as the prior administration could not point to one incident or regulatory gap that justified the rule,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, in the same statement. Western Energy Alliance appreciates that BLM under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke understands this rule was duplicative and has rescinded it. States have an exemplary safety record regulating fracking, and that environmental protection will continue as before.”
The states are doing a fine job, adds the American Petroleum Institute . It is also arguing that the revelation of the chemicals they use is tantamount to giving their competitors their trade secrets while also pointing to research by Stanford University that support the industry’s case that drilling is safe.