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Interior rescinds BLM’s fracking rule

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BLM will rescind hydraulic fracturing rule for oil and natural gas wells on federal lands

The Department of the Interior (Interior) announced its intention, July 25, to rescind the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) hydraulic fracturing rule for oil and natural gas wells on federal lands.

The BLM rule would have applied to all wells administered by the BLM (including those on split estate parcels), tribal and individual Indian trust lands.

In 2012, BLM proposed a hydraulic fracturing rule.  After reviewing and incorporating comments on the proposed rule, the BLM finalized it in 2015. 

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The Department of the Interior will accept public comments on the proposed rule rescission until Sept. 25. File comments here

In September 2015, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Wyoming issued a preliminary injunction stopping implementation of the rule and struck it down completely in June 2016.

The Obama Administration appealed the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the Department of the Interior in March 2017 if the agency’s position changed with the swearing in of President Trump. 

The Trump Administration said it planned to rescind the rule in the Federal Register, but did not say when.

NACo opposed the rule since it could delay drilling permits on federal lands, thereby hindering economic growth and negatively affecting county revenues.

The resolution opposing the rule and calling for its withdrawal, adopted by NACo members at the 2017 Annual Business Meeting, was sponsored by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.

“Wyoming’s dedicated and professional environmental regulators have long been national leaders in developing strong, enforceable fracking regulations,” said Peter Obermueller, Wyoming County Commissioners Association executive director.

“They have proven that the BLM’s Johnny-come-lately fracking regulations were duplicative, costly and unnecessary.”

Obermueller added, “The decision to rescind the fracking rule is good policy for our public lands counties with strong resource potential.” 

“It removes at least one of the dark clouds that had been hanging over responsible energy development in recent years that had resulted in the flight from public lands counties toward private lands,” he said.

The rule acknowledged that some states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Texas, have issued their own regulations.

However, the rule also stated that operators with leases on federal lands would have to comply with both the BLM’s and the states’ rules and regulations for hydraulic fracturing.

Additionally, the BLM’s rule did not include a provision to allow the BLM to approve a variance that would apply to state, tribal, or described as field-wide or basin-wide, that is commensurate with the state or tribal regulatory scheme.

The BLM would have had to determine if the variance met or exceeded the effectiveness of the rule. 

Also at issue: The decision whether to grant or deny a variance is entirely within the BLM’s discretion, and the BLM may rescind a variance or modify any condition of approval.

The language in the BLM rule does not defer to comprehensive regulations already in place in several states, nor does it provide sufficient guidance as to how the BLM may defer in the future. 


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About Jonathan Shuffield (Full Bio)

Associate Legislative Director – Public Lands and Liaison to the Western Interstate Region

Jonathan Shuffield serves as NACo’s Associate Legislative Director for Public Lands and Liaison to the Western Interstate Region, lobbying Congress on public lands issues including Payments In Lieu of Taxes, Secure Rural Schools, land management and endangered species.