Three days before oral arguments are scheduled in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Bureau of Land Management safety measures to regulate fracking operations on public lands, the U.S. Department of Interior is moving ahead with its plan to rescind the 2015 rule.
The rule, which was the product of nearly five years of agency work, expert input, public comments and hearings, never went into effect after it was challenged immediately by oil and gas industry trade associations. After a district court judge set aside the rule in 2016, BLM and citizen groups appealed to the 10th Circuit in late 2016.
The Trump administration, however, reversed course in March 2017 and announced that it would propose repealing the rule. Today, the administration formalized that reversal with a proposal to be published Tuesday for public notice and comment.
"This is another cynical move by the Trump administration that sacrifices our public lands and public safety as a favor to the oil and gas industry," said Michael Freeman, the attorney for Earthjustice who is representing environmental groups who support the safety rules in the legal action.
Despite a request by the administration to stay the appeal, the 10th Circuit scheduled oral argument for July 27.
"The timing of this proposal is obviously linked to this week's oral argument. It is part of the administration's effort to circumvent the law by asking to stay this appeal while leaving the lower court ruling in effect. We oppose that request, and we'll see the agency in court Thursday morning," Freeman said.
The rule calls for drillers to disclose what chemicals are used in fracking fluids and to perform tests on the integrity of the wells before drilling can begin. It was the first time the rules had been updated since the 1980s.
In its proposal to rescind the rule, the Interior Department said, "BLM believes that the 2015 final rule unnecessarily burdens industry with compliance costs and information requirements that are duplicative of regulatory programs of many states and some tribes."
BLM staff members in New Mexico have reported, however, that they do not perform onsite inspections of hydraulic fracturing operations because "the work is too dangerous" under existing rules.